You were summertime, more than anybody else.
The log cabin that your husband, my Uncle Steve, built from scratch in the Wisconsin north woods, by hand, measuring and cutting the logs, pouring cement, hand digging a well, stacking the stones for the fireplace, installing electricity. Walls and windows and ceilings and floors. Plus all the art work that hung from the walls, the landscapes and the portraits, the oils and the water colors, the output of his day job as an extraordinary artist. Now, seventy years later, it still stands, out living its creator by about thirty years and now, outliving you. It was (and still is) a simple structure, but to me, it was (and still is) grander than the Taj Mahal.
You were summertime, breakfast.
My dad, your brother. My Mom. My brothers and sister. Every summer, after you returned for summer vacation from your job teaching in California, we’d spend whatever time Dad got for vacation in our trailer house that doubled as a summer cabin and winter hunting shack, parked just over the small hill behind your cabin. And every year, beginning the first morning after we arrived, we’d wake, and one by one, each of us would make our way to your breakfast table, where you’d already be up and have the first shift of the endless breakfast sizzling loudly on your stove. Pancakes, French toast, fried or scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, and sausage – whatever we wanted – we’d put our order in and within seconds we’d be sitting there, at your small round table, and a plate full of the world’s best breakfast would appear. One by one we’d file down, until all of us, including my mom and dad, would arrive while you worked tirelessly keeping the plates filled. The amazing thing was that when we were finished eating, filled up, nobody left. As good and plentiful as the food was, the conversation, the banter, the laughter, was always better, and we’d sit there, listening and talking and laughing, for a good four hours after the first straggler made his way down. Most of the laughter was at your’s and my dad’s expense, as we’d hear the same old but never tired stories and arguments that’d been festering since you were kids.
You were summertime, early mornings.
I remember walking with you, 6:15 A.M, the sun already out and warm on spectacular summer mornings, daylight alive with the sound of songbirds, the road speckled with smatterings of sunlight that pierced the trees that canopied the narrow county highway, back when it still ran along the Chippewa River, twenty years before they’d re-route and move it to the south, away from the steep and eroding river bank. We’d walk the half mile or so to the farm next door, that just happened to be the farm you and my dad grew up on, where you’d get a bottle of milk from Ken Schultz, the owner of the farm at the time, one of the nicest men in the world. I remember the milk being so fresh, and the cream that rose to the top of the glass bottles.
You were summertime, lazy afternoons and evenings.
Reading or fishing or exploring. Laughing, making puns, especially if your son Larry was home. Sitting in front of your fireplace in a rocking chair, reading The Yearling or The Call of the Wild or a Sherlock Holmes story, or a twist ending story by Saki or O’Henry or whatever else I pulled off of the bookshelves that lined your cabin’s living room. Or running outside and grabbing one of the fishing poles you always had leaning against the big tree at the top of the riverbank and running down the cement steps you’d laid to the shore, just past the confluence of the Flambeau and Chippewa rivers, where the Flambeau ended and the Chippewa went on. Casting my line for hours without a strike, the lack of action on my line and the long summer afternoons giving me room to explore all the wild fires burning wherever the current in the river and my imagination would take me.
You were summertime, ice cream scooped from big plastic buckets into crunchy cones kept in a glass jar in your cupboard.
Warm summer nights, cloudless skies lit by the pale light of a full moon and an infinity of stars and the ancient dust of the cosmos. More laughter and conversation, in your lamp-lit living room, you speculating on some philosophic theory you’d just read about or picking up on whatever argument you and Dad had left unresolved at breakfast.
You were summertime, captured.
The portrait of you Uncle Steve painted back in the sixties that still hangs on the wall above your fireplace. Your eyes burn fiercely, intensely, and it captures you, your essence, in a way only Steve could have, in a way I didn’t understand until only recently, that the fire your eyes burn with is the fire of your very soul, their intensity revealing the strength that drove you to such exceptional love of and devotion to family and friends, the same strength and stamina that enabled you to work long summer days in your flower gardens under the hot summer sun as late as last summer, despite being 94 years old, slight and frail, a shell of your former self.
You were summertime, some fifty years ago, when none of us realized just how young we were.
You are summertime, and always will be.