We are encouraged to lie prone in the sand, read thick novels in the shade, congregate on patios with boozy sangria and gather around bonfires. There are strawberries as big as clown noses, embarrassingly juicy peaches and blueberries that beg to be eaten even before rinsing. Make-shift roadside stands heave with a farmer’s pride.
I’m heaving because it’s all drawing to a close. The sun has been closing her show earlier and earlier each night and fall is lurking like a pop quiz. Just today I felt a shiver of trepidation as I walked down the aisles of the Rexall drugstore on Bloor—there was a sneak attack of back-to-school specials: Crayola pencil crayons, protractors and shiny lunch boxes. Nooooooooooo! Not yet!
I walked home, absorbing the traces of humidity that just weeks ago left Toronto feeling like we were wrapped in Saran Wrap at midday. I opened a Tankhouse Lager and read Jann Arden’s latest blog post about the onslaught of fall in her Alberta. “There is a dampness in the air. That subtle hint of orange and red and yellow leaves that fills your nostrils… The trees are looking in at me through the windows at night and counting down until their big sleep.” Noooooooooo.
There was an instantaneous flashback to the summers of the Torti elementary school years. When we could BMX for five hours on the sugary fuel of grape Kool-aid alone. When we wore wet swimsuits with saggy bums and swam in the murky irrigation ponds full of leeches and snapping turtles. Eventually we would be hauled inside to put on proper clothing, and if it was Friday—we were probably going to pick-up a pizza at Godfather’s in Paris. Equally thrilling was the prospect of stopping at the corner store on the hill that weaved into the sleepy downtown where we could each buy a pack of baseball cards. Our jaws ached from the powdered gum that came with the cards. It was as tough as silicone and as flavourful as a countertop wiped with a wet rag.
Waiting for the pizza, we’d trade cards, bicker and gloat. We lived in the country, and no pizza place delivered to our remote parts. So, we’d get in the Oldsmobile with a pile of blankets (to keep the pizza warm). Apparently this was before the microwave era? With my parents in the front, we’d surreptitiously steal bits of crust from the vents on either end of the pizza box. Dax would eventually complain about the fumes from the Oldsmobile and how he was getting increasingly nauseous. He’d insist on sitting in the middle of the backseat (“the Hump”), so he “could see out.” This supposedly helped his nausea. Much like those afflicted with seasickness, Dax had to see the shoreline. Kiley would get perturbed to be further away from the pizza box, separated from the good crust-stealing position. She would cry and/or cross her eyes and the gig would be up.
What made us all cry harder was when we would accidentally let our eyes fall upon the Bluebird Bus Company on Highway 53. En route to get pizza, we were all too preoccupied with anticipation to notice the horrible visual of hundreds of day-glo school buses parked on the Bluebird lot, just waiting for that grand day in September. Usually we were on high alert, and once we passed Schuyler’s apple farm, we knew to duck and count at least ten M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i-s before raising our heads again. If we didn’t see the buses, we truly believed in an eternal summer. There was no back to school if we didn’t see the bus that would take us to our doom.
Lazy days of trading baseball cards, slapping pine sap in Kiley’s hair, whipping prickly wild cucumbers at our cousins and following Xanadu, our fearless dog leader into the cantaloupe fields would soon be a distant fog.
Our father would make us start “training our bodies” for the early September wake-ups (I never did successfully train mine). By mid-August we were so full of dread we all had morning sickness.
Desperate to cling to the carefree days and banana split breakfasts we had while my parents were working, we would set up camp in the backyard. If we slept in the tent until school started, surely, summer could last a little longer. The canvas tent was big enough for three circus elephants. It was a Canadian Tire special, circa 1972, a garage sale treasure that my mom had probably bought for less than ten bucks. It came with 673 poles and plastic yellow pegs that could never be driven into the cement-hard ground of August.
Eventually the tent was erected (who knew my dad swore like that?), and aired out for a week. The inside was a potent smack of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks. But, it was a ritual that we insisted upon. We didn’t have Thermarests or any particularly high-end technical camping gear. No, we had the flashlight that was bigger than a transport truck headlight that took 18 batteries. We also had a bedroom lamp and three extension cords that ran into the house which we would enter on the hour for too-scared-to-pee-outside pee breaks and more snacks.
We drank warm pop, ate soggy chips and hid in our equally soggy sleeping bags that also smelled of wet dog, mouse shit and sweaty socks. There would be ghost stories, mostly to make Kiley cry—but I was usually successful in scaring the life out of myself too. Pinecones would fall on the canvas roof of our circus tent and have us all paralyzed with fear. Then of course, we would get one last unexpected visit from my dad after he watched the sports highlights inside. I swear he tiptoed through the wet grass and used a voice suitable for a vendor selling peanuts and popcorn at a ballgame. “How you guys doin?” Before he even had “How” out of his mouth we were all on the ceiling of the tent.
Full of salty chips, ghosts and Archie comics, the lamp would finally be turned off. This is when the illuminated conversation started. We’d talk about school (despite our zero zest for the idea) and our played-down hopes for cool new rugger pants, maybe a new kid in class? We’d lament on the important things, like the return of hot dog day and the first school dance.
As much as we expressed horror at the sight of the first school bus, we embraced the new beginning. From the first fat blister from sharpening all those Crayolas to the new pair of Rainbow jeans and KangaROO shoes with nifty zippers on the side.
Summers die so quickly, but fall promises that we are part of a circle, and these blissful days will come ‘round again.