Childhood Memories of Southern Summers Past

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For a child of the South, summer days were long and hot and lazy. Time was spent belly-down on the cool boards of a shady porch with family dogs, or in soft grass beneath mimosa trees watching butterflies and hummingbirds flit among the blossoms, viewing fluffy white clouds peeping through branches.

The road was layered in powdery dust, where one could mark out maps or wiggle toes deep into the fine dry stuff down to the cool, damp earth. A great cloud of dust far away signaled the rare car, its passage causing much speculation.

The air was alive with the chirp of insects, the songs of birds, and the rustle of grasses, all interwoven with soft whispers of the earth breathing. Hollyhocks buzzed with fat bumblebees, and June bugs flew willy-nilly into tree trunks and the sides of the house, collapsing to the ground, stunned and easily caught. A long thread was attached to the hapless beetle’s leg and held as the insect buzzed around in a frantic circle.

Gardens grew ripe tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and fat green peas to pluck and eat on the spot, or young carrots and radishes to pull from soft earth, rinse, and crunch with root hairs still attached. Apple trees begged to be climbed, offering their tart green orbs to munch with a sprinkle of salt. As summer passed, the fruits turned red and yellow, mellowing and sweetening.

Late evening four-o’clocks and moonflowers opened, releasing their heady fragrance; the great sphinx moth came out to sip their nectar. Late suppers were served as the air cooled and the sun sank beyond the trees – fried chicken or ham, garden-fresh corn, green beans and tender squash, and always smooth, golden cornbread. A favorite dessert was biscuit pudding: crumbled leftover biscuits covered with rich, sweet pudding, topped with fluffy meringue.

As dusk settled, the adults moved to the porch, sweet iced tea tinkling in their glasses; youngsters ran about the yard catching lightning bugs to put into Mason jars, lids pierced with small holes for ventilation. These makeshift lanterns would blink far into the night in the sleeping household. The children retreated to the porch and watched the stars come out, close and bright in the summer sky. As breezes touched the treetops, the stars danced, and the great swath of the Milky Way was contemplated by young and old.

On unbearably hot nights, heat lightning flickered along the horizon. Electric fans were moved from room to room, and pallets were spread on the floor near screen doors to capture stray breezes. A forgotten June bug tied to its string buzzed about the porch. Mornings were mercifully cool, dew sparkling on the grass and garden, another long day of leisure stretching ahead. But these easy days would soon give way to the rush of school, where little feet would again be shod, and starched shirts and dresses would be donned. The excitement of a new school year was tempered with boredom of drill and repetition, the calendar marking time to the end of the year, shorter days, and damp chill, the long summer becoming part of a child’s memory.

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