Suddenly, Last Summer


Oh Sebastian, what a lovely summer it’s been.

from Tennessee William’s play “Suddenly Last Summer”

Until last summer, I’d only known what summer wasn’t, which for me wasn’t the longed-for months of languorous days and lightning-bug catching nights that it seemed to be for everyone else. I had lived more than fifty summers and not one ever felt like the freewheeling, sweet-smelling, dreamy days depicted by the poets and painters.

Growing up on the east coast in a family that didn’t camp, go to ballgames, take road trips or a own a house at the New Jersey shore, left me with only one alternative: overnight camp. I could feel my parents counting the days until my brother and I boarded our respective buses to upstate New York and Maine for ten weeks – so they could have a summer – where I would count the days until the first crisp hint of fall. I wasn’t much of a camper. I remember it as weeks and weeks of mean-girl pranks, late night gabbing keeping me from a good night’s sleep, not enough chances to read and waiting for too-infrequent care packages from home.

Before and after those months, my friends, away with their families or at camp themselves, my tennis-enthused father would drag my younger brother and I to the courts where we would sit and bake, beyond bored, for hours in the hot sun – why are there no shade trees by tennis courts? – waiting for match point. At home, the only air-conditioned room in the house was my parents’ bedroom. My mother insisted that two fans on opposite sides of the house facing outward provided plenty of cool air for my third floor bedroom — her phantom breeze. A sticky hot neck against a warm soaked pillow became my sense memory of summer.

At 15, when my friends were going to ballgames or the beach, my parents insisted that I work, and I have every summer since. Let’s just say that June, July and August weren’t popping off the calendar as a candidate for my favorite season.

Once I became a mother, summer presented the opportunity to provide one, a real one, for my daughters. But I quickly became resentful of work interruptions due to deliveries and pick-ups from theatre practices and soccer leagues, pools and picnics, sleepovers and bonfires.

It wasn’t until last summer, that work and family schedules allowed me the chance to taste the season in my own way. My writing, teaching and coaching load lightened, but my fall was set.  My eldest was living on her own and working in the city. My youngest took an internship out of town.

So I said yes to a friend’s invitation to her New Mexico art retreat where I painted in the desert for a week. I found an affordable hotel room and spent a long weekend in New York with my daughter and traveled to a women’s spiritual retreat weekend in Wisconsin. I dusted off my guitar, got back on my bike and returned in earnest to my own writing.

But it was our backyard hammock that helped me make summer my own. That cradle under the tree – a plaything for the girls – beckoned from my kitchen window one afternoon and I succumbed, climbing into it with a book, pillow and light blanket. As it began to sway, I felt the weight of so many summers’ disappointment dissipate. A new sense of the season was born; a chance for suspended serenity in the shade; the possibility of what summer can be.

My season to savor ever since.


Photographs by Ellen Blum Barish