Dad is putting up a fence in the backyard. It’s summertime and I’m seven. He leaves a space at the tree so we can still cut through to Missy and Shelly’s. They have a tire swing and a basement. They get the channel with Fraggle Rock and their mom buys pop in cans, packs of six. I secretly think they might be rich.
I sit at the table at Grandma’s house. It’s summertime and I’m nine. She has a poodle named Frolics and she paints his toenails red. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers sing Islands in the Stream from the record player in the living room. I will love that song forever. I have every reason to believe that Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers are married. My Grandma talks about Kenny Rogers as if she wants to marry him. Grandpa walks in from the yard and pulls out a roll of cash money, hands me a dollar and pats my head.
We eat sweet rolls and candy cigarettes.
The girl from next door and I ride fast through the quiet neighborhood, feet on pedals, hearts on sleeves. It’s summertime and I’m eleven. We’ve only lived here in Iowa a short time but I’ve made fast friends. This town has bike paths. Miles of them. I have found a freedom I didn’t know existed as we ride those paths beside the creek, beneath the bridges, fast around corners. I think this must be what it feels like to drive a car.
Henry Griffin grew eight inches last spring and now is the cutest boy in tenth grade. It’s summertime and I’m sixteen. We’re at a pool party, standing in a circle. He looks down at my bare feet and asks if there’s something wrong with my toes. There isn’t. But now there is something wrong with me, forever. I’ve never liked my feet and now the worst kind of someone has agreed with me. I avoid bare feet for the rest of the summer as much as is humanly possible.
This is my 35th summer (36th if you want to get technical). The summer snapshots are endless. The memories shape us, for better or worse. The stories are told and re-told — if not in words, then in our choices, our insecurites, our loves and our aversions.
It’s why I sometimes still hesitate when I put on flip-flops, why Dolly Parton sounds like home, why it feels extravagant to drink Coke from a can.
It’s important for me to write down the memories. Even if it seems insignificant or small, usually those are the ones that lead to a sentence in the story that perhaps didn’t make sense before. Remembering our stories helps us to value our life, to practice kindness towards ourselves, to respect our own stories and the stories of those around us.
What is a summer memory that has shaped you?