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?

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  1. 1
    Ta Doria says:

    I remember going to the province in summer of ’97 with all of my cousins (around 15 of us). We had a blast whatever we did, wherever we went. It was as simple as stuffing ourselves in a small audio-visual room watching TV or having a balloon fight or simply drenching ourselves using a water hose in the garden. I knew that, as long as I was with my cousins, I would have the time of my life.

  2. 2

    All of our stories have purpose. For sure. And yet, I sit here and shirk on the memories and think they don’t matter. How silly, right?

    Two memories–camping with my family and now planning on the same with my own, and babysitting two little girls for two summers. I’ll ponder on these two unrelated memories today. What I’ve become now and what they’ve become…who we’re still becoming.

    • 3

      Thank you Emily, your beautiful glimpse into your childhood summers has brightened my Australian winter!! My heart sank when i read about the boy putting you down-It is so true a careless comment ( I bet he wouldn’t even know he said it now but it is shot straight into our heart- I hate the way the enemy can do that in a second.I get the same uneasy feeling in thongs to this day from a similar jib )
      I smile at lil frolics red toes & I too love coke in a can!! The joy ray makes you smile is precious & I’m excited to go ask a few more people their summer stories!
      Have a beautiful day xxx

  3. 4

    I remember my very own peanut farm … inspired by then President Jimmy Carter and my Grand Jimmie D … that’s some sweet memories for me.

  4. 5

    Ohhhh, how you speak truth, Emily. Thanks for the dare to not forget what has shaped us.

  5. 6

    swimming at the old, old Y (as we call it around here as the building is twice new since i was a child) i can smell the locker room, feel the water, hear the 80′s music….now, a life like that would feel aimless, then? heavenly.

  6. 7

    I savor the memories of peddling my pink and grey ten-speed to grandmas house, just to wash my hair. She always had the best shampoo. Her sink had one of those sprayers. I thought it was fancy. Grandma was the best hair wash’in grandma in town. When she was finished she would wrap my hair up a pink towel.
    I still use that pink towel and so does my teenage daughter. The towel may have a few holes in it however, it hold more memories than holes:)

    Thank you for encouraging us on this Monday Emily. Blessings to you!!

  7. 8

    emily,
    your memories made me smile and remember. bare feet on grass, water balloon fights, learning about love and heart break, endless days of freedom, and always that game that both delighted me and broke my heart because “real” games didn’t include girls and softball just wasn’t the same.

    what a glorious start to a monday off! thank you!

  8. 9

    As a child – VBS and summer are one in the same with me. The most fun ever. Bible stories, games outside in the hot Texas heat, and finishing everyday off with a grape sno- cone made from a big block of ice with that loud machine – right there in the church parking lot.

    As a teenager every summer included my best friend’s two cousins ( gasp – teenage boys!) coming for the entire summer to Texas from Arkansas. They talked funny, were complete and utter country boys, and tormented us to no end. But they taught us how to fish, how to go barefoot every where, and how to enjoy the outdoors. We, in turn taught them all about New Wave and Pop music in the 80s, that going to the mall can be COOL, and how much fun staying up to til 2 in the morning talking about absolutely nothing can be.

    As a wife and Mom for 23 years… the summer memories are countless and may be as grand as fun summer vacations and as simple as being forced to the spend an evening together during a power outtage, enduring more of that Texas heat, giggling, and telling stories as a family (just like we had to do last night). So blessed for each and every second I have spent on this earth and so happy to have my memories.

  9. 10

    My summer memories include road trips with my parents, running around barefoot and constantly riding bikes with my friends.

    My family and I are on our annual RV vacation right now – with my parents. I told the kids to bring notebooks so they can journal about what we are doing each day. This is not something we do on a regular basis at home…honestly I suggested it so the kids (5,7,9) would have something quiet to do – at least for a little while. At first they were resistant but are really starting to enjoy it, including more in their entries each day. I hope to continue it throughout the summer!

    I am thrilled they a capturing their memories, I wish I did.

    Also, I had to smile when you talked about Dolly Parton. We went to Dollywood yesterday and the kids were introduces to all things Dolly… The kids loved it.

  10. 11

    What a beautiful reminder of summers gone by and memories that shape our lives. It helps me to understand where my daughter is at right now. Thank you, I so enjoyed reading this!

  11. 12

    Love!

  12. 13

    I grew up going to Lake Wawanoka with my grandparents on the weekends. We always packed a lunch for the trip. And the stack of colorful aluminun cups was always in the basket. Whenever I spot them in a retro store, they bring back the smell of Coppertone, thin striped beach towels and my grandmothers yellow floppy swim cap. Thanks for this Emily, loved it.

  13. 14

    Playing Star Wars action heroes with my favorite friend a couple houses down. He was so sweet – my first boy”friend” – always looked out for me, protected me, cared about me. Then of course, one day, my family moved away. And that was that. The memories are so sweet and innocent though. Fun to think back.

  14. 15
    Beth Wiliams says:

    One summer our church youth group traveled from Tampa, FL up to Lake Junaluska, NC. We worked hard all year raising the money–even hard a church wide yard sale.

    I remember staying at one church in GA then heading on into NC. That was one fun week for all.

  15. 16

    I love this, Emily. When we went to summer camp earlier this month, the counselors for the 7-8 age group gave certificates to the kids. My 8yod was Most Noble, but my youngest daughter got the Future Author award. She loves telling stories, like her mom. :)
    Last week I thought about a story that I’d like to tell from my 10yos’s point-of-view. Have you ever tried to tell someone else’s story?

  16. 17

    This really touched my
    heart, Emily. I think of
    my own life in this same
    crazy-quilt-of-squares-
    sewn-together sort of
    way. When I hear mourning
    doves I remember waking
    up at my grandparent’s
    home in Florida, ten years
    old and ready to roar into
    the day, ready for anything.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Suzanne

  17. 18

    raising Monarchs…going through the fields to find baby caterpillars, then keeping them stocked with milkweed til they shed their skin and became chrysalises…watching them hatch and flutter away. I don’t live on a farm anymore, but I’m making sure my kids have many of the same experiences. I planted milkweed seeds in the side yard last year and last week we collected 27 eggs! Today, 16 plump caterpillars are munching away on their milkweed in a Tupperware container on the kitchen counter (much to my city-boy husband’s chagrin.) In a few weeks, we’ll have a butterfly release day for our “Spotty Dotties”, as the kids call them. I love knowing that although it’s impossible to show my kids everything I love about country life, there are many threads I can keep weaving from my story into theirs.

  18. 19

    I grew up in South America, on the breathtaking coast of Chile. My best memory is piling up with as many friends we could fit into our blue Suburban and driving down to the dunes which were very steep, and a long way up, and a long way back down. We would climb those dunes over and over and over again. Once we reached the top we would run down as fast as we could, laughing and squealing with total abandon. At the very bottom there was a spot where one could keep running all the way under the road and straight into the ocean. We were exhausted yet we would not stop till my mom would tell us it was time to go.
    I graduated High School December 19th, 1986. My Senior prom was December 26. I remember, after partying the night away with my dear classmates, some of whom I had spent the past 12 years of my life with, going down to the beach in the early hours of the morning, taking my sandals off and digging my bare feet into the course yellow sand. I remember taking many deep breaths, treasuring every single moment, because I knew that this precious time would never come again.
    Thanks Emily for sending me there today.

  19. 20

    I love your telling of summer stories. What is it about summer memories that feel so simple and magical so many years later? One of my faves is staying at my grandaddy and grandmother’s house, the feel of the nubby chenille bedspread, filtered early-morning sunlight through the shades, and the smell of bacon. Always, the smell of bacon. : ) Maybe it’s why my mostly vegetarian self still has a total weakness for bacon.

  20. 21

    I was 9 and finally allowed to walk to the corner grocery store/gas station with my best friend. From then on, every cent I could find was spent on penny candy, cans of Faygo pop and fun-sized bags of sour cream and onion chips. We’d walk there almost every day, sometimes twice a day. Building a “city” in the woods behind our house… we spent hours back there, bringing out items from home and making our “houses” just so.

    I love to remember these things.

  21. 22
    Anonymous says:

    My Grandparents had a place up in the mountains and many of the family would gather to drive in a caravan to spend a cooler summer weekend. I remember the adults packing the huge metal cooler for the drive. My Granddaddy would ice down a watermelon for us to stop and enjoy at a roadside picnic table on our way up the mountain. We had that plaid Coleman beverage cooler in addition to the huge red one and we also had those different colored metal cups! Wish I had those today.

    Thanks for the lovely post today and the gift of this memory.

    • 23

      My dad mentioned those cups once, and I found them on a website. He uses them now when the grandkids visit and we make ice cream floats in them :-)

  22. 24

    Beautiful trip down memory lane! I had a “rich” friend, too, who had Fraggle Rock, a trampoline, and a hot tub! You have such a gift for creating with words. Thank you for sharing it, and for encouraging me to value my own stories.

  23. 25
    Mary Olson says:

    Riding ponies bareback in cut-offs, barefoot. We were Indian braves, searching for buffalo. Since we only had 2 ponies we convinced our younger sister that she had the “privilege” of being the squaw, staying at the tee-pee, tending the stick and dried leaves fire. She believed us…for a while.

  24. 26

    My friends and I in our early teens use to bike ride every where. But my favorite spot was to the river, where we had found a watering hole that seemed to never be visited by anyone but us. I can still smell the water, feel its coolness against my skin. The river bottom clay squishing through my toes, the slipper rocks that had to be climbed to jump in. Ahh summer!

  25. 27

    “The stories are told and re-told — if not in words, then in our choices, our insecurites, our loves and our aversions.”

    Sooo much truth packed in this simple line!!!

  26. 28

    I enjoyed your summer reflections. I can identify with so many of them. And, yes, it is good to reflect on why we think the way we do about things, finding that so often the root of our thoughts are simple, childhood experiences.

  27. 29

    Ooooh, I loved every sentence of this. I feel a swell of memories that I now am yearning to write. To take the time to write them, and do them justice. I’ve been having lots of flashbacks this summer, watching my kids and my best friend’s kids playing. Sometimes it’s like watching my child-self as an outsider, and it always makes me smile.

    • 30

      And the art of writing about childhood reminds me of Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. About how that is how we find truth in writing, reaching back to that time.

  28. 31

    Summer time? Lying on my back in the grass of the cow pasture watching the clouds. Berry picking. Canning hundreds of jars of fruits and vegetables. Working all morning to prepare a dinner for the community men who were helping Dad thresh oats. It would all be gone within 1/2 of their sitting down! Uncle John taking us swimming in the Mississippi River. Fishing to catch our supper. Reading every book I could get my hands on. Days so hot and humid you could hear the corn grow…I loved summer.

  29. 32

    I love this! Thanks so much for the encouragement to write it out.

  30. 33

    My older sister was my babysitter in the summertime, which she always let me know she detested, but one day, I think I was seven and she was fourteen, and she had walked me to a friend’s house down the street and then returned to get me and walked me back home later. We were in our driveway approaching the sidewalk leading to our front porch and a huge black snake (really huge to a 7 yr. old) was slithering across the sidewalk. She ordered me to stop and said if we stood perfectly still that it would keep going, and that it was more afraid of us than we were of it. I did not agree. I took off screaming my head off, Snake! Snake! and ran to the back of the house to go in the back door. My sister stood there cool and collected until the snake was a safe distance from her and then she calmly strolled into the house.

    Definitely large stacks of books from the library were part of every childhood summer, and picking blackberries in the field behind our house, with one eye always on the lookout for anything slithering through the tall grasses.

    I remember very hot summer nights with no ac and no fan, and sponging down with a wet wash cloth and hoping a breeze would blow in the open window and feel cool against dampened skin.

  31. 34

    Well, I just love this. We must have summered together, somehow.

  32. 35

    Lovely post Emily. :)

    I remember being 8 or 9 and standing outside our house and thinking that this age was just about perfect – somehow I knew it was carefree of responsibility yet I must have felt a satisfactory amount of freedom to do as I wished.

  33. 36

    Love this and love memories! Summertime memories include the smell of fresh-cut hay, husking corn and snapping beans in the shade, homemade strawberry shakes, romping through the woods, and endless outside games.

  34. 37

    I grew up camping at Lake Tahoe with my parents, grandparents, aunts & uncles. It was so much FUN! For reasons I don’t remember we stopped going when I was 12. Fast forward many many years…I’m know married with 2 kids. My husband & I purchase a motorhome & take our boys to Tahoe. It was if I was just there yesterday! We now have 4 boys & I’d like to go again so the younger boys can experience it too. Although, we have started our own tradition of camping at Pismo Beach for them :) GREAT post Emily!!

  35. 38

    The paneling slides from side to side each time the red wagon hits another crack in the sidewalk. It’s summertime and I’m 5 (AND A HALF!) and a gang of us are moving a stack of leftover paneling discarded by a neighbor. We’re moving it to a space in front of my garage. We finagle four sides up – making a tall box around wooden bench big enough to put two of our bottoms on it.

    It’s our fort. We take turns – two at a time – bums on the bench in our fort. I love the freedom – the ability to walk around the neighborhood and be creative with my friends. *grin*

    Blessings,
    Dana

  36. 39

    Long drives to the deep mountains playing silly games in the backseat with my sister to keep ourselves entertained. Skinned knees and hands sticky with sap. The crisp feeling of the air early in the morning before it gets brutally hot. The smell of warm pine in the air. Days spent exploring, climbing, camping, hiking, being in the mountains and the wilderness. Backpacking with my dad, exhausted and happy. The brightness and effusiveness of the stars uncontaminated by city light.

  37. 40

    Such sweet stories! Love your words! -Miriam

  38. 41
    Anonymous says:

    Just imagine, 67 summers are on my hard-drive (in my head!) and I’m working really hard to bring them to the surface. That’s a challenge! I was 10 when we arrived in Canada from Germany. If you memorized 100 Bible verses at Sunday School throughout the winter you got to go to Bible Camp for free next summer! Otherwise an immigrant kid’s family could never afford to send their kids! I gave my heart to Jesus at the camp! God gave grace to memorize for another 5 years – to get free camp of course – but the Word of God is settled deep in my heart! Then I continued to go free as a camp counselor volunteer until I got married at age 20! Now to look for some of those other memories and write them down!! Loved yours and all the comments!

  39. 42

    My daddy was in the Navy. We moved every two years, more or less, from the summer that I was seven until the summer that I was eighteen. The moves happened in the summers, always. I remember the scent of cardboard boxes. I remember the shade inside the back of a moving van, a still, hot shade. I remember sweaty hugs, and goodbyes weeks early to people who were going on vacation and would not come home until we were gone. I remember arriving in Fort Worth, Texas, on the Fourth of July, after a days-long drive from Massachusetts, the temperature a record 108 degrees Farenheit, my baby brother announcing that Texas (our house, in his mind) was made of bricks. I remember that thick, hot days full of whirring cicadas feel lonelier than bright, crisp days full of falling leaves.

  40. 43

    Picking mulberries and sipping honeysuckle (even in my childhood’s urban neighborhood!), riding bikes and feeling the wind, running to the convenient store for Hubba Bubba (and, yes, candy cigarettes), creek stomping and roaming free in the neighborhood, strawberry picking in the backyard. Mostly it’s this list of things that we did a lot of, a long stream of repeated joys, that stick out in my mind. And that’s what I’m loving with my kids this summer, these little happy routines like walking in town for dinner and coming back to ride big wheels in the driveway. It doesn’t take one big event after another to make for a good summer. It can be all the little things running together into one big happy memory.

  41. 44

    I loved this… mainly because it’s great but also because Islands in the Streams is one of my favorite songs… even though I thought it said, “I love industry” for years =) Thanks for a good smile tonight!

  42. 45
    Marie Krum says:

    Spending Sunday afternoons after church back the “crick” in the shade of the trees alongside the cool stream with colorful pebbles and trickles of water with my Mom and Dad.

  43. 46
    Nicole says:

    I always thought Dolly and Kenny were married, too! Love this post. Makes me wonder what my kids’ summer memories will be.

  44. 47

    Emily, Dolly sounds like home to me too! Did you grow up in East TN?

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