Summer was about blueberries. I’ve written before about my mother’s love for blueberries and her passion for picking, cooking and eating them.
We used to visit a cultivated patch of berries at the home of two little old ladies in North Reading near the center of town. They lived in an old white colonial shaded by big trees and surrounded by wild gardens.
The ladies would give us plastic containers on strings that we could hang around our necks and send us down the grassy, overgrown path to the enclosure of berry bushes. We would pick bucketfuls of berries in the clover-scented warmth, surrounded by birdsong and the humming of insects.
When we were done, the ladies would exclaim over the amount of berries we had picked and give us lemonade while we waited for my mother to pick us up. Later, there would be pie and possibly a stomachache.
Summer was about swimming with the horses. We would ride bareback to the basin of the Ipswich River in North Reading, which everyone called the Sand Pits. It was like a big beach, and we would gallop through the sand and swim the horses in the river.
It’s an amazing sensation when a horse’s feet leave solid ground and they begin to swim, and you feel the power and flow of their muscles as they forge through the water. We would hang onto their manes and try not to fall off when they burst up onto the bank in a great, lunging shower of water.
Sometimes, the horses would shake themselves like wet dogs, their big bodies shuddering violently and bouncing us to the ground in the process. I remember the delicious, spicy smell of the sumac that grew there and the feel of warm, wet hair against my legs as we rode home, the horses slowly drying in the sun.
Heaven knows what the quality of the water was like back then, or what could have been lurking beneath the surface. We didn’t worry about it.
Summer was about my mother’s watermelon basket. She didn’t carve a handle in it like people do now, but the sawtooth edge she cut into the big watermelon half was amazing enough to us.
We were mesmerized by the rainbow of fruit she put in it, cantaloupe, strawberries, grapes, and of course, watermelon, all scooped perfectly round with her melon baller. It was a masterpiece, and we lived for the one or two times she made it each summer.
In those days, the milk came in bottles. Big, heavy bottles. And one time, one of those bottles was slippery and I was in a hurry. The milk bottle came crashing down right on top of the newly made watermelon basket, and everything hit the floor in an explosion of milk, glass, watermelon and perfectly round fruit pieces.
It was a sad moment and there was a lot of crying. After a period of recovery, my mother made another one, less cheerfully this time and with a lot of stern warnings.
Summer was about biking. We went everywhere on wide suburban streets and narrow, twisting roads. Our favorite destination, a couple of hair-raising miles from my house, was Frank Mace’s store. It was a package corner store of the old school variety, dark and dim, with worn wooden floors.
There was the odd can of soup and a couple of stale loaves of bread, but it was booze, cigarettes and candy that kept the place in business. Frank sold soda, too, (or tonic, as most everybody called it), and that’s what we came for. It was kept in an old cooler filled with ice and freezing water.
I would reach into the chilly depths and pull out an orange or grape Fanta in a glass bottle. The bottle was wet and the soda was ice cold and so good. We guzzled it standing on the dusty front steps. We bought Bazooka bubble gum, too, hard as a rock and brutal on your teeth.
Summer was about Dairy Queen. DQ was only about a half mile down the street from Frank Mace’s, but it was on Route 28 so we had to drive there for Dilly Bars, Strawberry Shortcakes and dipped cones – the cherry ones.
They also had an early version of slush called Mr. Misty that was really weird. I loved the butterscotch milkshakes. Odd as that sounds, they were delicious, sweet and soothing, and I drank them often back when Dairy Queen was the only ice cream show in town.
Not along ago, I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Salisbury and asked if they still had butterscotch milkshakes. The woman behind the counter said they could make a caramel one, would that do? It would. It was sweet and soothing, just like my childhood favorite.
I sipped it slowly as I sat in my car. It was cloudy and cold that spring day, but I was content. The milkshake in my hand told me that summer would soon be here.
Sometimes, you can go home again, even if it’s just for a moment.
Marilyn Archibald (email@example.com and blogging at malibu93.webnode.com) lives and writes in West Newbury and Rockport.