One of America’s cherished myths about summer holds that the season is for the young.
Perhaps this notion is shaped by the school calendar. Or maybe it stems from pop culture’s perpetual pandering to youth.
But the truth is, you can’t fully appreciate this time of year until you’ve turned a few laps in the pool.
Sure, little kids get a bang out of running around barefoot. Teens enjoy letting their yearnings simmer in the sun.
Good for them.
But as we age, we learn that summer isn’t just a season. It’s a story. And it is one you can tell better after you have written a few chapters.
Can you imagine listening to an 18-year-old complain about how fresh vegetables have no taste anymore?
Of course, not. You would laugh. What does a kid that age know about it?
No, you have to be a certain vintage to have credibility when telling an audience that once, in a magical land called yesterday, tomatoes weren’t just pulpy, flavorless mush. They were blood-colored invitations to exclaim about how good life can be.
Writers have tried to describe that taste. But you had to be there.
Still, there’s more going on here than mere nostalgia.
Getting older gives you context. The current summer can be viewed as part of a sun-baked continuum stretching from here all the way back to your first flip-flops or revelatory sip of ginger ale.
And by no means does aging have to turn you into an overheated grouch. Some progress has been good, after all.
Now a callow youth wouldn’t know this. But bendable, plastic ice-cube trays were one of the best inventions of the past 50 years.
Remember those metal nightmares? Remember trying with all your might to pry the handle up and then having ice cubes explode in every direction like benign shrapnel?
If this isn’t your first time in the deep end, chances are that you do.
Having a few years on your résumé gives you a broader perspective on summer. Oh, you can still enjoy children’s squealing delight about a squirt-gun shootout. You can nod while patiently listening to some fresh-faced kid attempt to characterize the singular smell of freshly mowed grass.
You can share in their joy as they first paint the familiar brush strokes of summer.
And you don’t even have to bring up the great water-balloon bombardment of 1966. Or the time the sweaty kid down the block got de-pantsed so many times he started going around in just his underwear.
Of course, you wouldn’t want to be too restrained. The young people in your life might actually be disappointed if you didn’t remind everyone about how it used to be hotter and how soft drinks tasted better. (Kids secretly enjoy rolling their eyes.)
So be sure to mention how much bottles of Coke used to cost from a machine. And don’t forget to offer up a few verses of “summer camp used to be about summer” and “hook-ups were invented at drive-in theaters.”
Here’s the thing, though. Having a little gray hair invites some people to look right through you or assume that you no longer have an emotional connection to summer.
How could you? You’re so old. Did they have lemonade stands back then?
What they don’t realize is that maturity teaches you the most important lesson about the season: It’s going to be gone in a blink.
So those of a certain age learn to savor summer, day by day.
That’s a subtle skill harder to master than hitting a Wiffle ball or brewing iced tea.
When you’re young, as a brilliant comic-strip once observed, the days are just packed. You live in the now because that’s all you know. You don’t realize that some things will stay with you as freeze-frame images.
As the decades pile up, though, you start to know how to spot the keeper moments in real time.
It’s not about living in the past. It’s about understanding the season. It is about having a long-term relationship with this time of year.
You get so that you can tell when a smile-filled afternoon will last forever.
The expression “Endless Summer” has been used as a title for a surfing documentary and as the name of a Beach Boys album. But it’s also a mindset.
Sure, our highlights in the sun might seem fleeting. But once you have grabbed hold of a special moment, there’s no reason to let go.