Summer and the Promise of Shiny Objects by Andrea Santo Felcone

Putting aside the obvious reasons—heat, sweat, humidity, and the crazy tan I will inevitably acquire and sport until Thanksgiving—I hate Summer. The dreaded Summer swim lessons as a child were only going to end if I jumped off the diving board. I was never going to jump off the diving board. And when the adults in the water realized I wasn’t jumping–someone, a swim instructor, finally just picked 8-year-old me up, and tossed me off the diving board and called it a day. The only saving grace was that “the tosser,” while tossing, had mistakenly (or ingeniously) called me by my sister’s name, annoying me enough to distract me from the long plunge into uncharted waters.Summer Sea Shell

That plunge into uncharted waters seems to be a prerequisite in the sweltering months from June – August. Summer not only requires I step out of my comfort zone, but into swimwear, and into water, and into amusement parks, where other people thrive, but where I generally fear to tread. Summer asks too much.

The Summer People, (you know who you are) all trim and tanned, sun-bleached hair flipping as they ride atop bicycles, or rollercoasters, or crashing waves; those people make it look effortless. Summer People have learned (or maybe were born with the ability) to equate fear with fun. (Those are two distinct emotional states for me.) And, no, I’m not so much jealous, or in awe of Summer People, as I just want the little part of them that enjoys the unexpected, the spontaneous–the part of them that doesn’t require someone physically toss them off of something to get them into somethingsomething unexpected and new.

Summer was never going to gain my affection when it became my Season of Grief. Eighteen years ago, my father passed in early June and set the stage for the added layer of oppressive feelings I now associate with Summer. Some years the oppression clamps down harder than others. Until I remind myself that Dad—possibly above all others–would want me to be a Summer Person (or at least try).

After the divorce, my sister and I spent every other weekend and every other Summer with Dad. Dad was many things: complicated, hysterically-funny, mercurial, fiercely intelligent, and infinitely spontaneous. With Dad it was never the road most traveled or least traveled, it was always some kind of tangential route you never imagined you would take. Without a plan, we found ourselves at: a) a Shriners’ circus; or b) a pool party with people we had just met; or c) in a Temple/Church/Mosque, whatever had looked interesting. I don’t know how the decisions were made, perhaps whatever caught his eye while driving. Maybe the shiniest object from the road—won. I do appreciate how this has made me a ‘well-rounded’ person in the long run, but it had made 12-year-old me–nervous, uncomfortable, and often embarrassed.

I became the opposite of the Summer Person; I became the “Rein It In” Person. I tried to keep Dad on task, on time, in line. While he started a conversation with any and all strangers, any time about any little thing, I was the one tugging at his sleeve, mouthing, “It’s time to go.” When he tried to make the largest pancake known to man, I tried to figure out how we were going to flip the thing (it covered the entire surface of the pan). He lived life (much like that pancake)—large and messy. Dad was “in the moment” well before that became trendy, mainly because the moment was all he had. Dad had stopped to smell the roses so often; he had lost relationships, jobs, and mainly–his way. And when he died at the young age of 58, the autopsy revealed a heart six times larger than most–full of all of that life, love, experience, plus the added stress and poor health choices that led to his early death.

So, spontaneity for me is a loaded proposition. It has always had complicated associations. How much is fun and how much is irresponsible, even reckless? I can tell you without any spontaneitythe world lacks color and surprise. I miss Dad’s childlike wonder and curiosity, the curiosity that led him into spontaneous waters. I deeply miss Dad’s sense of humor, his intelligence, our philosophical talks–his visionary predictions. When he anticipated the technology where one day you would be able to see someone while talking to them on the phone, I scoffed, “Who would want that?” (Sorry, Skype.) When he unfolded the piece of paper on which he indicated I would want to write someday, I scoffed again.

My father never had the opportunity to meet my children. So, I can rail against Summer and its call to spontaneous adventure, or I can accept its open invitation and try to become more of a Summer Person, in tribute to Dad. (The Summer days are too long to rail against.) I can do this to share a bit of my father with my children. Who knows? This may be the Summer where I surprise myself and suggest something off-script, something unexpected.

This may be the Summer where something shiny catches my eye … where the shiniest object from the road–wins.

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