Waiting for Summer

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 8:45am

This past weekend I somewhere read that among the reasons May 30 was chosen for Memorial Day, before the Uniform Holiday Act relegated it to a Monday, was the fact that flowers were in fullest bloom.

It is a harsh reality of the start of every June, that grasses, where allowed, have grown tall and started to go to seed, and some flowers have already peaked and faded. 

Down the lane behind my house I see lilacs or, more accurately, the remains of fragrant clusters of purple flowers, melding into the green leaves surrounding them. The sun rises so early first traces of light, which bring birdsong to life, come in what would be deep night in December; sunset is now almost four hours later than in those darkest, shortest, days.

The rain continues to fall, the morning's promise of scattered showers being made good, and the earth is soft and lush and forgiving. The bayberry on the far hills and the water willow ringing the big pond behind my house are generally the last to come to the party that is spring and this year is no exception; they remain softly brown and visibly woody, as though waiting for their own time to shine, apart from the show of new life around them.

It is cool. The long weekend is more often warm to hot, evoking memories of childhood, when the morning of the holiday was devoted to services of remembrance, but in the afternoon we went to the beach and exposed our winter-pale skin to the sun. 

Yes, I am so old I remember when Memorial Day was on May 30, and we had a long weekend only if that date fell on a Friday or Monday. We could easily be in school the next day, the fair-skinned among us moving carefully, our sunburns making us feel as though we would crack with every step.

Now, the weekend is the “unofficial” start of summer, when houses that were closed in January are fully occupied, “open” flags fly in town, and the boat schedule that had been steadily expanding ratchets up for a few days before returning to its not-quite-summer-yet level. 

It was not a complete washout of a weekend, cool, but not so bad that there was none of the traffic we had almost forgotten, the first wave surge of mopeds, personified by one melee in particular. The leader shouted “go left, go left” as they came down Spring Street and headed up High. They could have been — I hoped they were — returning to the place from which they rented their little machines, but, no, they continued up the hill.

The quiet returned too soon with the sort of rainy holiday Monday that fills the big parking lot with vehicles on stand-by, their owners hopeful they will find a slot and be off sooner than planned, home earlier than expected. It was the kind of day that in high summer would bring a movie matinee with throngs of kids in bright colored brand new Block Island slickers running from their parents' cars to a few hours of popcorn and entertainment. 

It was not high summer. People wandered in and out of shops, probably lingered over long lunches, trying to make the best of a gray day, plans made with great optimism dampened by one of those factors over which we have absolutely no control, the weather.  

Then we dropped back to a waiting for summer stance, reflecting another factor beyond our control, the school calendars which govern so much vacation time.

It is also a time of college graduation, I am reminded when I hear from my older brother, who, to my astonishment, attended a fiftieth college reunion at Brown. It bears noting that there have been some good changes to our little world; in 1963 kids from Block Island going to schools such as Brown was a distant dream. 

The day his acceptance letter arrived I was at Bill Lewis' house out on Plover Hill, with Cousin Billie struggling to teach me the fundamentals of piano while I was more taken with the view and his exotic house furnishings. When my mother came to pick me up she was literally beaming with excitement, unable to contain the news; she and Billie understood better than I the accomplishment.

My brother, also Bill, went off to college that fall. He was big and strong and was quickly tagged by coaches and as quickly overwhelmed by classmates who had spent years involved in truly competitive contact sports. He did, ultimately, earn a varsity letter in crew, perhaps the first graduate of the Block Island School to mark such an achievement. He graduated in 1967 and my parents and I went to Providence to attend the ceremony. 

Former grads marched up College Hill, and my parents remarked later how old they thought those their own age looked, proclaiming themselves so much youmger.

When my brother and I spoke awhile back, and he told me of his plans to attend the reunion, he mentioned in particular wanting to visit the Boat House. He would see a granddaughter in Boston, a bigger draw than a quick visit to Block Island, which proved a good call when the rain came. 

He was a big, rawboned guy, and he ran for decades, but, no, he said, he had not rowed since the regatta following his college graduation, the one that bought him a delayed entry date at Officers' Candidate School. He generally calls me, I think, primarily to complain about the shoulder he truly did injure a few years ago, and of the general ravages of time he seems to notice more now that he is retired. 

Imagine my amazement when he wrote that he had a great time and had rowed.

My brother's summer came early when he realized that the other oarsmen, like those alumni marching at his own graduation, had also gotten older. I did not ask how far — or how fast — they rowed.