When I was little, my family would leave the city on Friday evenings in the summer after my dad and grandfather returned home from work. The drive on the Taconic was long and boring so, after the fun of annoying my sister wore off, I generally fell asleep, waking when we pulled into the gravel driveway; the second the bumping of the car stopped I would fling open the back door and hop out to run across the acre that my grandfather always kept fallow. It didn’t matter that it was dark and the field was rutted or that I would have to return home in about thirty minutes for dinner. Nothing mattered but seeing my best friend, Patti Reyman, who lived in the house at the other side of that field.
Sometimes, though, we arrived closer to midnight because my father had returned from work late or an accident on the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway had marred our progress. On those nights I grabbed my stuffed dog, Morgan, and headed to bed, knowing that Patti would be waiting for me the next morning.
Patti and I had known each other forever because her father, Louie, and my father were childhood friends. When my grandparents were first considering buying a weekend house, Louie drove upstate for the ride; while there he fell in love with a local girl. He relocated to be with her and soon they married and began their family of four girls. As Patti and I are the same age, we became the fastest of friends, playing together all day of every summer day until high school. The bond we forged remains to this day.
The next morning, no matter how eager I was to go, there were protocols to be followed. First, I had to have breakfast with the family. My grandmother thought that the minimum amount of food required to start the day was a small glass of juice, a bigger glass of milk, and bowl of cereal; woe betide the grandchild who tried to sneak out without having finished it all. Next, I had to have my long, blonde hair arranged into twin pigtails by my sister – who pulled while she braided – or my mother – who did not. Finally, I had to dress in suitable play clothes because Patti and I were not docile little girls who played Barbies – when we played, we ran, we chased, we fell . . . we really played – so no girly, lacy, sundresses for me. Easily-washed shorts and sneakers were my summer uniform and I was eager to be in it and be off.
Finally I was flying across the dewy grass glistening in the clear, summer sunlight. Patti opened the sliding glass door before I even banged on it.
“I knew you were here because I saw your Keds hanging on the line,” she said.
That was over forty years ago, and now the seasons seem to fly past, but when the weather turns mild and the daylight stretches itself up on its tiptoes, I crawl up into the attic and dig out my Keds. (Yes, I still wear them.)
When Patti and I chat on the phone or text each other and the conversation turns, as it often does, down the road of childhood, amidst the memories of attending the band concerts in the gazebo in Hoosick Falls or the time my cousin, Carl, locked me in the playhouse, she invariably mentions the sight of the sneakers dangling from my grandmother’s clothesline. “I so looked forward to seeing them; that meant that you were here so it was officially summer.”
Official summer is an emotional designation having nothing to do with the solstice. It’s officially summer when I shut off my alarm. It is officially summer when juicy, scarlet strawberries appear at Moses Farm Stand. It’s officially summer when I pack for Italy. And it is officially summer when I can spend my days with my dearest friends while clothes on the line waft in the breeze.