Summertime Magic

Remembering vacation trips with family … and long, languid days with boyhood friends, doing everything we wanted, and sometimes nothing at all.

July 2018

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

For the 16th consecutive summer, we’re publishing in our July issue the best entries in our youth art contest. Rising Centreville fourth-grader Anika Karnam, whose parents are members of NOVEC, rose to the challenge of this year’s theme — “my favorite summertime activity” — by colorfully capturing her love of snorkeling. Her best-of-show entry and those of the other grade winners constitute this month’s cover story.

Anika’s illustration got me to thinking about favorite activities and fond memories from the long-ago summers of my youth in the 1960s.

At the top of the list is the longest trip I had ever taken, to Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 1965, with my mother, brother and grandparents, to visit my uncle and aunt and their five children. I remember the thrill of seeing for the first time a rodeo, Native Americans and (from my sleeping bag and unbeknownst to the grownups) snippets of the scandalous TV show based on the even-more-scandalous novel, Peyton Place. Heady stuff for a 9-year-old boy.

The next summer, 1966, my parents, brother and I ventured even farther afield, on a cross-country trip to Colorado. More than half a century on, I still vividly remember the sky there stretching to infinity, in a blue so pure and pastel and intense that it seemed drawn from the palette coloring the Caribbean waters I had seen as I leafed through pages of National Geographic magazines.

Fixed in my mind’s eye too is the rugged grandeur of Pike’s Peak. The otherworldly landscape of the Garden of the Gods. And most of all, the Air Force Academy chapel. While I now view it as both remarkably modern and medieval at once, at the time I saw it simply as the coolest building I had ever seen (and it still may be).

Those two trips were fun … lots of fun. And not just because they were the longest by far my family ever took, in duration and distance. They were fun because we were experiencing and enjoying new places together, as a family.

Other, shorter summertime trips were often taken to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle, to Pensacola or Panama City, where the aqua-blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico would remind me of that gorgeous blue forever-sky out West in Colorado.

Memories abound from these family trips too. Of swimming in the motel pool, after dark, the recessed sidelights in the pool walls a surreal reminder that the indulgence of a past-bedtime swim was reserved only for family vacations, only in summertime.

Of combing the blindingly white, sugary sands of the Gulf Coast beaches for whole, intact shells of all sizes and shapes, shells not beaten and broken by the pounding surf, as they were on the Atlantic Ocean side.

     I have many fond memories also of far more typical summer days, spent at home, in my yard, in my neighborhood, with my friends, doing …well, doing everything we wanted, which sometimes meant nothing at all.

Like packing a lunch in the morning and being allowed to stay out all day, exploring the woods and creek behind our modest tri-level home outside Charlotte, North Carolina.

Or running through lawn sprinklers in our bathing suits on scorching-hot afternoons.

Or punching holes in the lid of an empty jar, to house the lightning bugs we would catch at twilight.

Or lying on the cool night grass, watching stars shimmer, listening to tree frogs chirp.

Or playing hide-and-seek at night all over the neighborhood, before being called home well past our bedtime.

During those long days of summer long ago, the outdoors was a moveable feast. Of discovery and adventure. Of lessons in Mother Nature and human nature, whether searching for salamanders in a creek bed or settling close calls at home plate.

In our age of busy lives and hectic schedules, it’s hard to imagine a time when a lot of kids had a lot more freedom during their summers. I feel lucky to have been such a kid.

In our backyard baseball games, there was no umpire. Catcher and batter would hash out differences over ball and strike counts, and close plays at the plate.

Because if we couldn’t settle things ourselves? Well, then, the grownups would have gotten involved.

And that would have spoiled the most magical thing of all about summertime.

Kids being kids.  