Opening the door to summer
Published 8:56 am Tuesday, May 26, 2015
I grew up in a big family. We weren’t the Osmonds or the Waltons and definitely not the Duggars, but five kids, two dogs and one of each flavor of parent constituted a respectable tribe back in the day.
That’s probably why I always looked forward to holidays as a youngster. As someone who absolutely hates the meteorological reality of summer, it’s kind of ironic that most of my happiest memories derive from the days in July and August when my family would go to the seashore or the mountains and reconnect after a year of fraught cohabitation.
My brothers always seemed less annoying when paddling in a rowboat on the lake, and my baby sister was more huggable with a ring of blue juice from the blueberries she’d picked and eaten staining her mouth.
My mother, always lovely, became heartbreakingly beautiful when the sun would cause her olive skin to darken to caramel, contrasting with the white glow of her smile. My dad became a giant freckle, interrupted by a man, and the wrinkles and worry lines that etched his face during the year disappeared in the salted air.
And me, well, I had room to dream. You see, during the rest of the year, I was a type A personality, always obsessing about getting good grades and refusing to accept the fact that no matter how hard I studied, Donna DiGiacomo would always beat me by at least five percentage points. The fact that I’m Facebook friends with her today and harbor very affectionate feelings is attributable to those summers at the shore or the mountains where I learned how, taking Olivia Newton John as my model, “to be mellow.”
Being part of a tribe marks you. I have friends who are only children, and they made it through to adulthood quite admirably and often with a lot more dignity than we multiple products of the rhythm method. But I can tell you that having your DNA multiplied by five also multiplies the variation and intensity of shared memories.
For example, if I’d been an only child, I never would have learned that being thrown up on during a very bumpy roller coaster ride is actually fun, because then you are treated to unlimited ice cream to make up for what Michael did to you.
And if I’d been an only child, I wouldn’t have developed my storytelling skills, the ones that enabled me to scare the beejeezus out of my younger siblings when my parents had their rare dates at the pub on the pier and I wove tales of zombie fish.
Most importantly, if I’d been an only child, I wouldn’t have had assistant architects to help me build human-sized sand castles, or assistant geologists to help me gather Cape May Diamonds, or assistant anthropologists who’d help me track the route of Big Foot in the woods near our Pike County cabin. My memories are anything but solitary, and that’s what makes them particularly precious.
Memorial Day weekend is a time when we think back on all of the rich things that glitter through the mist of time, and give us glimpses of the people we used to be (and still are, inside.) At a national level we use the time to honor, as we must in order to remain truly humble and cognizant of this great gift of a country, those men and women who gave their lives to protect and preserve America. But even there, the personal comes into play.
I remember so many Memorial Day weekends lying across a bed in a rented Victorian with the heavy salt air coming through the window and making the lace curtains billow, barely, and watching an old war classic on the Million Dollar Movie, something like “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” or “The Fighting Sullivans” or my very favorite because Cagney was in it, “The Fighting 69th.” I’d be alone, because the other Flowers were fast asleep, having crashed after the sugar highs of custard and salt water taffy and fudge.
Now, one of those sleeping Flowers sleeps with the angels, and he’s with my caramel-colored mother and my freckled pop. Another brother is far away, and the remaining siblings are older now than my parents were when we took those trips to the sea and the mountains.
But we have a wide-eyed little boy who likes custard and salt water taffy and fudge who is just starting to make his own memories, one who picks his own berries, one who would gleefully paddle a boat if we let him near one, one who believes in Big Foot and who knows how to execute a perfect salute to a perfect, star-spangled flag.
Sometimes, memories are living things.
I hope yours continue to collect, and pulse with life as we open the door to summer.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.