Sunday 04 Dec 2016

Our Last Summer
AJ Robinson

"Our Last Summer" is the title of a song by ABBA. It's oh-so appropriate as a title for this story. Some of the lines are perfect:

I can still recall our last summer

Memories that remain

It was the age of no regret

Walking hand in hand

Living for the day, worries far away

We could laugh and play

And so on. You see, this summer is our last summer, my Mom's and mine. Our last together on the island, the Island of Martha's Vineyard. She's getting on in years. She's in her 80s, slowing down; the economy has made things tight for her, and she's selling her place there. So, while we may visit the island in years to come, this will be the last time that she and I are there together in any semblance of what we once shared.

With that in mind, I began to think of some of those "memories that remain"; I thought back to our first summer. Well, not our real first summer; after all, I was six months old back then. I did hear stories about it though. All the neighbours were agog, simply agog, to see me. You see, I was a rather big baby, big! They took one look at me and said, "Oh, he must be close to a year old. Why, Silvana wasn't pregnant last summer; that can't be her baby. Steve, my oldest brother, he must have gotten married, or gotten a girl, in the family way, last year, and that's his son."

Mom and Dad were quite proud to tell everyone that I was theirs! Yeah, they might be older than most parents, but they still had it.

Over the course of those first summers, my toddler years, it was then that I met all my friends. Our moms brought us together, and our little group was formed. We shared fun times and bad. We all had the mumps, chickenpox and what not, and became a tight band of friends. Our family dog, Figaro, was my constant companion; he stood guard over me when I fed the ducks at Sunset Lake and took walks around the gingerbread cottages. No memories of those events, merely pictures.

Finally, I grew old enough to remember things. For a four, five and six-year-old, it truly was, 'the age of no regret,' and my friends and I truly, "could laugh and play," as we were, "living for the day, worries far away." It was a childhood straight out of old-time America: feeding ducks, catching minnows, going fishing, going swimming, playing games, and pain was nothing more than a skinned knee or mosquito bite.

It being the late 60s and early 70s, there was no Internet or PlayStation to keep us indoors, no fifty cable channels to keep us glued to the 'tube,' no CNN to constantly remind us of all the dangers of the world. There was the Cold War, but that was a "vapour," to kids like us, it was undefined, unknowable. And yes, there were probably child molesters and abductors out there, but we were on an island, and none of us suffered any such fate. Blind luck? Yeah, maybe. We bolted out the door at first light, and ran and played until the Oak Bluffs Volunteer Fire Department blew their signal horn at noon. Then we knew it was time to go home for lunch. After that, it was out again until six o'clock, when the church steeple played music, again, to let us know it was time for dinner.

And mostly, I remember Mom. Her touch, that's what I remember for a first memory, for our first summer. Backing into our backyard of the cottage, and her helping me out of the car, and no, we didn't wear seatbelts, and I wasn't in a booster seat. Yeah, a primitive age!

She unlocked the door, and we went inside. The place smelled old and musty. We brought our bags in, and went upstairs to unpack. The beds had to be uncovered and made, not that I cared about that, I wanted to go find my friends. Yet, duty was duty. So, we took care of the beds, our clothes, and brought in the groceries she'd brought. Of course, she couldn't bring everything, so a visit to the A&P or the Reliable Market was needed.

But, that could wait for a little while. Taking my hand, she walked me around the immediate neighbourhood, and we 'checked in' with our friends. As our moms chatted, we played and played, and played! I have no idea what, that memory is gone, but we did something fun.

After diner, bath time; that meant going to the laundry room in the back. She filled one of the sinks with warm soapy water, and I sat in there. Yeah, a very long time ago! Now, I don't think my head would fit in that sink. Then jammies, and up to bed. She tucked me into that big bed, I barely filled half of it; the smell of mothballs and detergent hung thick in the air, and she held my hand as she said good night.

That first night, like all first nights to come, I lay there and looked around the room. Yeah, the start of summer; so much to do, and we had plenty of time for everything. Mom took me to the beach time and time again. Yeah, we did a lot of that, "walking hand in hand"; walking along State Beach, going to the store, strolling among the cottages, going to potluck suppers and community sings, going to fly a kite or sail a boat at Ocean Park, and riding the carousel at the Flying Horses. There were fireworks, the Agricultural Fair, Illumination Night, and oh so many other things to share.

She was there the first time I caught the brass ring at the Flying Horses, her smile and touch warmed me.

She was there when I fell and broke my wrist, her concern and touch comforted me, and just the smallest speck of pain was eased.

She was there when I did not come home at dinner time, her anger and lack of touch sent me to bed without my supper.

So many summers, so many events; and yet, now they're all bound up in the past, all gone. Amazing how forty years can become forty seconds. Only now, here, at the end can I see the totality of our lives together, and have no regrets. I would not wish away all the pain, all the hurt, if it meant parting with one second of the joy and love she gave to me.

Wait, there is a regret; I wish I could give her even one-tenth of what she gave me, but I'm afraid I'm a failure in that department.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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