It’s the Fourth of July. Mentally, I see this as the middle of summer, since school is now a distant memory and the local Shop-Mart hasn’t set up their “Back to School” displays and aisles. There are several weeks of summer left for us to enjoy before September arrives and spoils the party. It makes me wish I was young again.
Ah, summer in North Carolina. Those were the days.
Summers in North Carolina meant days spent on the shores of Wrightsville Beach, digging up sand fiddlers. It meant splashing in the surf until I noticed a jellyfish floating next to me, which led to a hasty exit from the water. It meant running on sand that was hot enough to scald the soles of my feet as I tried to make a mad dash to the ocean in order to cool off. It meant building drip castles in the swash zone, just to watch them get swallowed up by the waves. It meant I could only ignore my mother’s shouts for me to get out of the water and put on more sunscreen and a tee shirt for only so long before I got in trouble.
It meant eating lunch at a small gift shop near the beach and buying cheap trinkets and novelty gum and too-sweet candy that could only be enjoyed by the youngest of children. It meant eating bologna and cheese sandwiches that were flavored with the crunch of beach sand and drinking a cold Pepsi from a glass bottle.
Summers in Carolina meant gardening to my mother and great-grandmother; the two of them would plant tomatoes in the earliest blushes of the spring and one of them–but never both in the same year–would have a banner crop while the other languished. Between the two of them, they did alright and would split the extras between each other.
Summers in North Carolina meant my parents tomato sandwiches for lunch: bread slathered with Miracle Whip and adorned with deeply red slices of tomato, straight from the garden. Other days, my parents would have pimento cheese sandwiches, which were two slices of bread coated in both Miracle Whip and pimento cheese. I never understood the attraction of either; maybe if I left off the Miracle Whip it would help somehow.
Summers in Carolina meant the neighbors “crossing the border” into South Carolina in order to buy fireworks–which were illegal in NC–in order to go full-on Michael Bay for July 4th. If you didn’t want to risk it, you could always go to the riverfront downtown and take in the professional fireworks show. I did that twice: once when I was still a very young child and a second time after I had graduated from high school.
Summers in Carolina meant cold cereal for breakfast, a cold sandwich for lunch and a hot meal some time after five o’clock. It was too hot for anyone to be cooking, my mother would often complain. It took me well over thirty years to see her point. I blame the tamoxifen.
Summers in Carolina meant ducking into Cinema Six or the College Road Cinemas in order to cool off for a little while. One Fourth of July, the College Road Cinemas offered a free showing of The Karate Kid Part II for the first three or four hundred people. My mother and I stood outside that theatre for well over two hours, guaranteeing us a couple of seats for the movie. The crowd made that a special experience, with everyone cheering at just the right moments.
To this day, I still have a soft spot for that film. I think I always will.
Summers in North Carolina meant listening to 102.7 WGNI in the hopes of calling in to score a beach bag filled with swag during the “102 Days of Summer” contest. I listened constantly but never won once. It wasn’t for lack of trying.
Summers in Carolina meant listening to the radio after midnight, the sultriness of Brenda Russell, or Aretha Franklin, or the soulfulness of Billy Joel or Deon Estus mixing with the heat and humidity to become something more, like a living soundtrack to the summer nights, where I sat up writing bad poetry, my Legends Bumblebee by my side.
No, trust me about that poetry. The music was great. But the poems were bad. I’m kind of glad that those notebooks are lost. I’d be embarrassed to claim them.
Summers in North Carolina meant getting your lap branded by the metal buckles of the seat belt or feeling the sweat rolling down the back of your knees because your parents insisted on vinyl seats for their car. The inside of my mother’s station wagon would get hot enough to bake a pizza on the dashboard on a typical Carolinian 90+ degree day. The air conditioning didn’t kick in properly until we were about five minutes away from our destination. This is not an exaggeration.
Summers in Carolina meant me and my friends piling into my ex’s car and heading to Myrtle Waves or Jungle Rapids or maybe the now defunct Jubilee Park to spend a day away from our parents and whatever else that might have been bothering us. I’d always invite my friend from high school–she was acquainted with the ex’s group–but she never went with us. She didn’t like water parks, it seemed. Bad experience when it came to a water slide and she never wanted to go to one again. Her loss.
Summers in Carolina meant taking in a kid’s movie on an early weekday morning. The prices were good, the theatre had AC and I could munch on popcorn. What other reasons did I need?
Summers in North Carolina meant heading to the movies before 6 p.m. in order to avoid paying the matinee prices. I was able to catch Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Transformers: the Movie thanks to that.
Today, we have five dollar Tuesdays. I’m not really sure which I prefer.
Summers in Carolina meant coming home covered in grass stains, dirt and mosquito bites. It meant riding my bike until the sun set, which was around 8:45 in the evening. It meant getting hosed off because my mother declared I was too filthy to step inside the house. (Trust me, the ramshackle old trailer we owned when I was young would never have noticed a touch more dirt.) It meant afternoons jumping through the sprinkler or playing with the garden hose or trying to fill one of those pathetic little plastic wading pools with enough water to do something fun.
Summers in Carolina meant my dad digging out his little charcoal grill and cooking out at least once. I can still remember the taste of those cheeseburgers, slathered with A1 and mustard, and the Oscar Mayer Cheese dogs, hot off the grill. Chasing those with some chips and a Pepsi made for a perfect meal.
Summers in Carolina meant that my normal bedtime was suspended. I could stay up a bit later.
Summers in Carolina meant I could watch as much PBS as I wanted as the air conditioner droned in the living room window, or maybe wander the local mall or the now defunct K-Mart in order to beat the midday heat.
Summers in Carolina meant ever day felt like a Saturday morning, which was a good feeling.
Summers in Carolina meant fighting with Cubs baseball games, as those were aired on WGN, also known as “The Chicago Channel”, and those games preempted the afternoon showings of The Transformers. It didn’t help matters when the game was over and the postgame show ran long; far too long, if you asked me. Especially when the subject was along the lines of “Well, the Cubs lost this one…”
During those summers in my formative years, I learned to detest the Cubs, thanks to that. I have hated the Cubs for more years than I loved the Brewers. That is something that will never change.
Summers in Carolina meant thunderstorms every afternoon and watching the water as it evaporated from the asphalt of the paved roads nearby, resembling thin trails of smoke as it rose into the humid air. The temperature would drop precipitously during the rain but afterwards, the heat and humidity would come roaring back. Those showers were only a temporary relief from the mugginess.
Summers in Carolina meant watching the Weather Channel and catching the local forecast, which was simply white font against a blue or brown background. In the 1980s there weren’t any fancy graphics for the local stuff and the local radar was rudimentary at best.
Summers in Carolina meant reading the Sunday newspaper with a gnawing sense of dread, as the day would come when the local stores would trumpet all their back to school offerings. It was an unsubtle reminder that the summer was fleeting and that my vacation would soon be gone. Even today, as an adult, I still grumble aloud when I see those three words “Back to School”.
Summers in North Carolina meant getting up early or getting up late or not getting up at all, as the day stretched out before me, a flat, purposeless horizon, endless and open, waiting for me to live in it or soak it all in. I’d like to think that I did both.