Summer snuck up on me this year – like a surprise visitor creeping through the garden gate and whispering “SURPRISE.” I was enjoying late spring and all of a sudden I realized my garden is wearing its summer colors and the neighboring fields of corn are high, and winter wheat fields are golden oceans of crests and waves. The many trees that enclose our small neighborhood, that form a canopy over the country roads we travel, and are the backdrop of fields of growing crops have moved past the delicate color and weight of spring. They are now heavy with leaves that are dark and rich, providing a retreat from the hot summer sun.
Summer is triggering memories of summers as a child. It is interesting that all my summer memories are of being outdoors, by myself or with other kids, doing what kids do when left to themselves. I was a kid in the 50’s and we were expected to entertain ourselves because my stay-at-home mom was busy with laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday, etc. The benefit of having a mom who was always home was a constant supply of home baked cookies (sugar cookies that were thick, moist, and tender, with three yucky raisins on top). The cost was we couldn’t afford store-bought cookies that I coveted.
We didn’t have a full schedule of activities organized and overseen by adults. They didn’t exist, except for scouts; besides the working and middle class families with stay-at-home moms wouldn’t have been able to afford them. I probably wouldn’t have lasted at a sports camp because my memories of the softball games in the empty lot across the street were of getting picked last. But they needed me to fill out the teams so I participated. I probably didn’t play all that much because I remember a lot of time spent in arguing rules. All the street games we played involved negotiating rules – instead of having some higher parent-power teach us the rules. For me the negotiations were the game.
I learned so much about living in community with people who had different ideas about right and wrong as we negotiated our way through our neighborhood activities. I learned about how kids were excluded and included. I learned that, as a group we had the courage to do what I knew wasn’t right – to defy my parents’ rules. I also learned about guilt. I learned that I liked inclusion better than exclusion, that doing right was better than doing wrong. As I look back I realize that way back then I was concerned about social justice and equal rights. At the time I didn’t know that I would grow up to be a social worker. I didn’t have female role models who had careers – just role models that were strong women who told me that I could do and mostly stayed out of my way.
My favorite memories, however, are of being alone with only the voices in my head to keep me company. My most precious memories are of the swing hanging under the huge, really tall, reach the sky Oak tree growing in my Grandma’s side yard. I knew Grandma was in the kitchen and could see me when she glanced out the window – I knew she cared. This was known, not thought about.
The swing was my instrument of discovery. It was the place where I learned about the laws of motion and the makings of the being called me. Oh, I didn’t realize I was learning these things – that only comes from hind sight. But I was.
I learned how high I could pump before the ropes would go slack and cause me and the swing seat to do funny little bumps and falls. That is when I learned to slow down. I had learned the limits of high in a swing. I would swing on my belly, watching how the ground changed as I raised and lowered with each push. I twisted around and around, enjoying how I went higher and higher, stretching to keep control with my toes until that second when my feet wouldn’t touch the ground any more, and then felt the thrill of spinning out of control. Aah, and the wonder of not being able to control my dizzy body.
I also got to be who I was (and always would be, in some way) as a person when I was living on that swing. Grandma and Grandpa had a beautiful vegetable garden on the other side of the big tree with the swing. I loved how the rows were so neat as they stretched to my left and right. I loved the different textures and greens of the growing leaves, and how the short plants were in front and the taller ones in back. Did she plan it this way – just for me? Maybe I inherited her liking of order.
I wasn’t into thinking about these things when I was of that age, that is what I do now. Back then I thought about helping those plants to grow. I wasn’t a budding horticulturalist. No, I was a teacher and a psychologist who was interested in helping the vegetable plants reach their full potential. I taught them how to sing, how to use their vocal cords to make different sounds, how to sing different harmonies. I think, at the time, I knew that I wasn’t teaching them to sing because I wasn’t a singer. It wasn’t something I did a lot of. As I was teaching the plants how to develop their abilities, I was developing my own. In my solitary time I was practicing the traits and skills that would continue within my various roles as I was growing up. As I am still working to be all grown up, I am still wanting to help people find who they are and live a life of harmony, justice and equality.
As summer wains, I think I will spend more time on my purple porch swing talking to my perennials about aging gracefully, how to sing their death song, and to sing the song of rebirth after their long dark winter of hibernation. Maybe I will also write a blog or two. This is how I will continue to do God’s work that I was learning way back, so many years ago, as a child in summer.