“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy” begins the George Gershwin song I’ve loved since childhood, when a Chicago accordionist named Sam Porfirio and a nightclub singer named Georgia Drake, friends of my father, would visit our Florida home and entertain the grown-ups.
Decades later, those nights seem unreal. We lived in small-town Winter Haven, Fla., where our landscape consisted of citrus groves as far as the eye could see in any direction. During spring and summer, we breathed the intoxicating aroma of orange blossoms. During the fall and winter, when most of the fruit was harvested, the air was pungent with the sweet rot of citrus peel as thousands (millions?) of oranges and grapefruit traveled on conveyor belts to be processed into juice. Needless to say, fruit flies were abundant.
The melody of “Summertime” carried me up the stairs and to sleep without a care to disturb my dreams. There were no angry protesters outside the Supreme Court, no 24-hour news channels filled with war, disease, mass shootings or something called abortion. Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite managed to wrap things up in about 30 minutes. Between visits to my mother’s family in South Carolina and weaving hats from palmetto fronds at day camp, summer slipped by too fast.
Later, during my teen years, summers were filled with water skiing from dawn to dusk, or when the gas ran out. We lived on Lake Eloise across from Cypress Gardens so, of course, we skied until we dropped, hopefully well clear of the gators and water moccasins that were facts of life in still-wild Central Florida.
On this July Fourth, I was flooded with such idyllic memories as news broke that a gunman had fired upon the crowd at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Ill. Osama bin Laden couldn’t have picked a better spot, but this terrorist, like so many others this year, was homegrown — another misfit filled with random rage and packing a weapon.
At first, survivors said, they thought they were hearing fireworks. Then quickly, as if mass shootings have become part of our DNA’s flight-or-fight reflex, they dropped everything and raced to escape. Seven people thus far have been counted among the dead and more than 30 reportedly wounded.
This tragedy arrived on top of an already-blistering summer filled with anger, confusion and divisiveness that seems unbridgeable. Everyone is feeling the heat of such events and other developments, from Roe to Ukraine to inflation. And then, your brother has a heart attack. Or your great-niece gets covid at camp. Or the cat was accidentally trapped in your office for three days.
Those last three are my own little summer squalls — though the first wasn’t so small. I heard about the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade while fixated on the monitor over my brother’s intensive care bed in the Asheville, N.C., veterans hospital. Please indulge me as I salute the best doctors, nurses and staff I’ve met in a long time. They were cheerful and competent without exception; I almost thought I’d traveled back in time.
When finally able to return home, I became hostess to the covid-positive camper and her mom, who quarantined in our guest quarters. Then, returning to work in a shack out back, I discovered that during my absence my life had been unplugged by my not-so-techy husband. Trying to retrieve a certain power cord I needed, he seems to have decided that the best way to deal with a massive tangle of multiple cords was to undo the whole shebang. Thus, this column was preceded by a scramble to reinstate power, computers, WiFi, TV, printer, dehumidifier and other necessities of this columnist, and is, in short, a miracle.
(The cat, named Mr. Lovely, while very hungry, hasn’t displayed any signs of lasting trauma, but judging by some of the treasures he left behind, he may need some therapy in anger-management.)
All of which is to say that this summer has already seemed unbearably long, and the dog days are still weeks away. Except for my brother’s urgent issues, I recognize that my crazy days are little nothings in the context of a nation on the cusp of implosion.
But it all adds up, doesn’t it? For me, there is solace in memories of another, distant summertime, when things seemed simpler, when the livin’ was easy — when we might even rise up singing, spread our wings and take to the sky.
That was, alas, a very different time.