A bench, a book, a patch of grass . . .

.  .  . Fireworks.

Say what you will about the calendar (with its celestial reminder that there is an order to our days), something more spirited is at play when one season slips into the next.  By the time the summer solstice arrives, Memorial Day has already jumpstarted the season.  Then comes  the build-up to July 4th, the hot dogs and hamburgers, Roman candles and firecrackers, the expectation that the day before and the day after are a given part of the celebration equation.  Only once in a blue moon (at least that’s how it feels), expectation gives way to exception: a midweek fizzle of a 4th.

July 5th, a day neither here nor there (an afterthought in years when the calendar does not bow to our demands), yet evocative enough for someone to use as the title of a play.  So often it’s the grace note that gives us pause. Space to reflect.  I spent yesterday with friends (and friends of theirs, now mine) at their house overlooking a lake. This is the way I’ve celebrated the 4th of July for years now. Early on, our (young) children were part of the picture. Grown and mostly dispersed now, they leave us to our own grown-up devices. Which are not all that grown-up at all.

And why should they be?  Summertime bears the imprint of free time.  School’s out, playtime’s in, whatever that means to any one of us.  No sooner does summer arrive and I picture myself walking home from the library, a pile of books in my arms. Summer reading meant you could borrow more books, for a longer time. When my family first moved to the middle-income housing project that defined a neighborhood on the cusp of change,  there was no library. But there was the Bookmobile, arriving on schedule once a week. The back entrance was for returning books. I walked up the steps, deposited the books I’d read, spent some time perusing the shelves.  Walked out the front of the library on wheels, filled with the anticipation of where the books I’d chosen would take me.

It doesn’t take much to imagine my thrill when a ‘real,’ permanent library was built. More books. More choices. Any one of them in my lap as I sat on my favorite bench, in the shade of a tree overlooking a patch of grass. Reading.  In the height of summer.

Recent celestial events had me hankering to reread Shirley Hazzard’s novel, The Transit of Venus. I went scurrying to my shelves, the book cover as clear in my mind as if I’d read it yesterday. Except that it wasn’t yesterday, it was years ago, nowhere to be found now, clearly gone the way of paperbacks that can survive being boxed in an attic only for so long. Not a problem. It’s summertime. What better joy to give myself than heading over to my local library, picking up a copy bound in a way meant to last. Meant to be shared.  Meant to remind me of days sitting on a bench in the shade of  a tree overlooking a patch of grass.

10 thoughts on “A bench, a book, a patch of grass . . .

  1. Hi Deborah… sounds like a great time on the 4th! I would love to spend time on a lake with old friends, but like your children, mine seem to have dispersed far and wide.
    As far as fireworks go, I am spoiled by my blacksmithing friends down in California. Hand-crafted explosives, potato canons and a long night spent together by the forge. The clang of hammers, a roaring fire and Wiley’s banjo tunes took us into morning. Ah, things to miss!

  2. Great post, as always. The 4th with my kids (still young) involves watching fireworks at a park while they run around in the dark with their friends, like satellites around us. We’re fairly invisible to them until they need something (water, hot dog, spinning-light-up thinger) or it’s time to head home. All of us spend a lot of time in the library, but funny enough, in the summer, we spend much less time there, preferring to do more outdoor things, and popping into bookstores to buy whatever we need. You know, come to think of it, I’m going to have to track my book purchases to see if I do more of it in the summer.

  3. My best memories are of hanging out in the downtown library when I would visit my older sister, which was often. I loved that I had to be oh-so-quiet, and that it was ok, expected even, to stay awhile.

    I’ll admit to my book addiction, but also claim victory over keeping books I will never read again, or books that did not move me the first time. Still, I have more non-fiction than I will ever be able to read (in this lifetime), and just enough fiction to allow space for the great works of our writer friends.

    But even as the years I have left shorten, and my eyesight challenges my ability to read small print, my appetite for, and feeding of my vice will grow and grow and grow…until someday I will leave behind a library that tells a simple, voluminous story about what moved me.

    Thank you for a beautiful post that has me smiling and reminiscing, and dying for a trip to the library!

  4. I love this taste of nostalgia, which conjures of my own favorite memories of childhood on the 4th of July, and of the library. I just took my daughter to the public library again a few days ago, having enrolled her in a summer reading program, and still get that warm feeling when I walk in the door, knowing this place holds endless possibilities.

    Thanks for your beautiful post!

  5. “So often it’s the grace note that gives us pause.” This sentence gives me pause!
    Enjoyed your reflections on summer. I remember the bookmobile that came to our village of Fremont NC when I was young. One of my happy memories too.
    Oh, I have ordered your book, and look forward to this summer read!

  6. I love summertime reading. The sky’s the limit, and you can read just for the fun of it. Adventures, mysteries, romance–all for the taking! Ah, summer. Though I must say, by the time the Fourth of July comes and goes, I start feeling like summer’s almost over. Before you know it, it’ll be Labor Day weekend. Sigh.

    • Very sweet and reminiscent and probably makes some of us feel like dinosaurs or an old worn out shoe in this age of technology.

  7. I’ve always loved libraries. They were hallowed ground to me. Other than church, there are few places where you are expected to be so quiet and respectful. I especially loved the ones housed in old stone buildings with marvelous architecture. You could almost feel the presence of authors long gone. I, too, would leave with as many books as they would allow. Lovely memories…

  8. I somehow missed this lovely post, probably because I was enjoying my summer vacation up in Oregon with old friends! You’re absolutely correct that nothing is better than reading in summer. I remember how I used to go to the library and check out huge stacks of books, happy in the knowledge that there was unlimited time to read them! Thanks for bringing back such wonderful memories!

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