This one is for you, Jaa, who asked me to write about my favorite summer memories...
Until I was seven (when my grandfather passed away), the farm I lived on was a veritable organic farm fantasy, and the barn was my castle. It was always stacked with hay bales, and in its cool darkness we would build forts, chutes, and "couches," where we (my younger brother and neighbors) would spend hours making stuff up, sliding down long chutes, and in general being kids. But the surprises made it especially memorable...the mewling we heard muffled under the hay that, when we lifted the bale, turned out to be a batch of newborn kittens. Or the day we opened the trapdoor to the pigpen underneath (which made it easy to throw hay bales down for bedding) and saw a mother pig suckling what seemed like forty piglets (I think it was just seven or eight). And then there was the annual soybean harvest, where there was a big pile in the center of the barn, and we would climb the ladder, go over to the edge, and jump into it like an organic sea of mini balls. Oh, the glory! Did anyone know where we were or what we were doing? I doubt it. Did we ever get hurt? Thankfully not. Oh, it was fun!
After getting all hot and filthy it was definitely time for a rinse. The glistening turquoise of my grandparents' pool shone like a beacon in our little summer hearts, and we would swim and swim until our lips turned blue and quivery. We'd take turns jumping off the diving board, making waves, and diving for stuff until we were too cold to take it anymore, and then I'd lie down on the warm concrete by the pool and soak in the heat from the sun until I was ready to go back in again. My mother always hired a lifeguard to keep us all from drowning, and they were always cute boys we loved to taunt and tease. My parents rarely came to the pool to swim, so it was a place of freedom and fun at all times.
All that fun and swimming would make us hungry, so we'd have to go on the prowl (I use the word "we" loosely, since it may have included my four imaginary friends). The gardens were filled with food warm from the sun: tomatoes, green beans, peas, mint, raspberries, strawberries, sour cherries from the tree. And then after I was satiated I would find a tree or a grove of bushes to rest, dig, dream, smell the fragrant earth, and get dirty again...which means I would have to go back up to the pool for another rinse.
The Back Porch
A summer day always ended with the loud beep of the car horn, which was my mother calling us all up for dinner. We would be ravenous by then (there were five kids total and always various exchange students and visitors from afar), and we would scarf down dinner as fast as we could so we could go out and hang on the back porch. That was where "quality family time" occurred, which was everyone sitting around talking, watching the sky go dark and the fireflies come out. Sometimes we would run and play tag in the grass, or "roughhouse," or play on the swings. But we always returned to the back porch to see what we were missing and to rest. Sigh. I was always tired and ready for bed, even when it was stinking hot out and there was no breeze. ZZZZZZ...
And then there was summer camp. We would go to summer camp in the Poconos for two weeks (Camp Hagan/Miller), and I started when I was SIX! That year I won the youngest camper award. But camp was HEAVEN. The smell of pine. Sugar cereal for breakfast in those thick melamine bowls. Swimming in the Delaware River and working my way up to the "red cap" level, which was the most advanced (the scent of brown river water, the feel of rocks under my feet, the cold freshness moving, always moving...). Sleeping in a bunk bed with the windows wide open. Campfire singing every night (and was that some weird initiation ritual I remember, where a few people got "tapped" to spend the night out in the wilderness?). The canteen where we could spend a ticket after dinner each day, where I would get a Sugar Daddy and savor it until it was just a mangled stick. And then after dinner vespers at a grove in the pine woods, where I would vaguely listen (okay, not really listen at all) to some talk, but I would FEEL the sacredness of the woods and nature, while I built little villages out of pine needles and twigs.
My only vague worry was that my parents would move while I was at camp and forget about me, or that I would forget what they looked like when they came to pick me up. But they always came, and I always remembered, and we would drive home in the giant station wagon and go back to the farm....
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.