Janet Sheridan: Too soon finished

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Janet Sheridan

It’s finally summer, when young mothers push strollers through mellow evenings, laughter drifts across backyard fences and rainbows of green entertain eyes weary of yellow, gray and brown.

Under a summer sun, I’m less obsessed by what’s for dinner and how much sleep I had the night before. I stand taller, breathe easier and open more readily to spontaneity and stray dogs.

While running errands this week, I encountered a friend, a lady who exceeds me in years, wisdom and grace.

“I believe we have achieved summer,” she said, “Isn’t it glorious? Don’t you love this time of year? It makes me feel childlike and young again — well, younger, anyway.”

Caught by her happiness, I asked, “When you were a child, what did you do to entertain yourself during the long days of summer?”

“Helping out with chores around our place, mostly, but when I had time, I explored: studied anthills, tried to catch butterflies and searched the night sky for falling stars.

Nature fascinated me. As a child, I paid attention to even the smallest things in my world.”

Later, I thought about her words and recalled my bouncing excitement when the bus pulled away from our elementary school, and we chanted over and over: “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”

School and winter were vanquished, summer would never end and the rituals of childhood awaited us.

I wonder if any of my readers practiced similar rituals.

We walked barefoot in the heat of the day along our graveled lane and the asphalt road it met — with no hopping or complaining — to pass a self-imposed test of endurance and nerve.

We timed ourselves to see how fast we could ride the bike to the mailbox and back without dropping anything. Pumping furiously, I sometimes bounced too high over a rut and crashed, resulting in scabbed knees and elbows I displayed proudly and tried not to pick.

We dove or belly-flopped into the chlorine-heavy water of Arrowhead Pool and swam as far as we could underwater, carefully marking one another’s progress.

We sat behind each other, taking pride in not needing to hold on, as the oldest guided our horse, Easter, along country roads framed by sugar beets and alfalfa.

On the Fourth of July, we played with cap guns so we could smell the burned caps and saved the centers of our slices of watermelon for last so we could pity those less disciplined who finished by gnawing rinds.

We held buttercups under one another’s chins, checking to see who liked butter, and split the ends of dandelion stems with our tongues, sucking on them until they curled up like a slinky.

My friends and I plucked petals from daisies to discover if he loved us or loved us not, and made dolls from hollyhock blossoms I usually threw at Bob’s head when he wouldn’t leave us alone.

As one summer day of childhood melted into another, I didn’t realize how fleeting was our freedom to experience and explore, how soon it would give way to the jobs, responsibilities, and restraints of adulthood.

When I turned 60, the months of June, July and August began to spin by me like ornately decorated carousel horses running wild despite my efforts to slow them.

I felt I didn’t have enough time to savor summer — to store away the smell of petunias, the feel of dancing breezes, the sight of goldfinches jostling on a bird feeder and the shouts of children riding their bicycles pell-mell to the pool.

Like my lovely friend, I cherish this time of year and find summer glorious.

If only it would slow to the pace it kept when we were young.

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