It’s summer, finally, after a spring that somehow felt cooler and wetter than in other years. Stranger, too, due to pandemic circumstances. Summer. It used to be a magic word to me, especially as a child. Looking back, it felt like an additional piece of freedom. Maybe it was. It usually was connected to my birthday only a few days before summer solstice – and that (the birthday, not the solstice) meant always a big deal, of course. And maybe actually some more freedom due to being another year older.
Summer meant that we played outdoors a lot, as soon as weather permitted. Our neighborhood was full of kids the same age, and we hung out together until our mothers called out of the windows or from the balconies to come to lunch or dinner. Mine was never a shouter – still, we somehow always managed to be home in time. I guess, the other kids’ heading home was a signal for my little brother and me to go home, too.
What else do I remember? Peaches. I grew up in the early 70s when supermarkets still mostly had only seasonal produce. Which meant oranges only in winter, peaches only in summer. Did peaches taste more flavorful back then? I remember getting one whenever I asked. Maybe I didn’t ask that often, but I still remember biting into the velvety skin, the juice dribbling all over my chin and my fingers, the intense sweet and tart yumminess. Even the room seemed to smell differently, as soon as my mother had filled a basket with peaches.
One of the best treats, for sure, was ice-cream. If a Sunday walk led by a café or a pub, my dad made sure we went in and got us a popsicle for a few dimes each. I preferred strawberry sorbet back then, my brother loved simple frozen cream; later we had such fun stuff as “Brown Bear”, a chocolate covered caramel creamsicle with a real caramel core, or the “Green-o-phant”, a creamsicle covered with a layer of green sweet woodruff sorbet. There were popsicles evoking a yearning for vacation destinations, clearly targeting grown-ups – “Capri”, “Split”, or – how exotic! – “Miami”. When we moved to a different suburb of my hometown, Stuttgart, we started experiencing Italian gelaterias. And to this day I haven’t enjoyed any ice cream better than a real Italian gelato.
What would my childhood summers have been without exploring, though?! It’s a German tradition to go on a summer vacation. The entire family. Often for two or more weeks in a row. It became a competition after the summer holidays who had been to the most exotic place. Unfortunately, nobody back then seemed to care hearing about a vacation in Germany. Least of all our teachers. It was the beach holidays in Spain or Greece that got kids the general praise. Our family “only” vacationed in Germany – but these vacations were spectacular! Because we had a daily program of varied activities going. All four of us, my parents and us two kids.
If we went to the mountains, we went hiking there. We used gondolas. We swam in lakes or took boat tours, we visited castles and monasteries, we tried regional food and played between pigsties and cow stabling boxes. If we went to the Baltic Sea or the North Sea, we visited submarines or battleships, walked castle parks and the cobbled streets of Hanseatic cities, boiled fresh shrimp and had a feast of peeling them, took a boat ride to islands, visited museums. My mother was a master storyteller when it came to relating how people used to live back in the day, or to explaining paintings and artwork, to discerning between architectural styles and relating the lives of musicians, artists, or writers. My dad was amazing in relating history and politics, while we were exploring places. I sometimes feel, these vacations were more schooling for us than school would ever be.
Summer. The downer was always when we returned from our vacation. It meant summer was almost over. The peaches started becoming mushy and dry. The open-air swimming pools somehow were lack-luster after our experiences in the real deal minus the chlorine. And the only next highlight of the year was another solstice away. (Remember, Germany has no Halloween tradition.)
Summer. These days, it means having dinner on the deck sometimes. Or, if weather permits, mountain hikes or boating trips on the Sound. What was special back then – the peaches, the ice cream – has lost its appeal along with its pungent flavors because you can get it all year around. And childhood … ah, is it already this long ago?! It seems to be just around the corner. Because when I step back in my memories, there it is in all its careless glory. Even with a tinge of peach in the air.
Care to read Boyle’s Double Take? Click here.
Joe Boyle, author of the Suburban Times’ column “Westside Story”, and Susanne Bacon, novelist and author of the Suburban Times’ column “Across the Fence”, are sharing their thoughts about a variety of topics in their joint project of double features called “Double Take”. Comments are more than welcome, as they know that the world has more than their two angles – the more the merrier.