What comes to mind when you think of summer? Do you think of swimming in the hot sun or eating a cold treat at one of the shops downtown? Do you envision fishing or grilling or riding ATVs?
All these things take me back to the summers of my childhood, a time when my biggest concern was finishing the summer reading assigned by the English teacher I'd learn from in the fall. Once that was done, I could do basically anything I wanted to. Of course, I almost always chose to spend the time at my nana and papaw's swimming pool.
They installed the pool in the early 2000s, and everyone in my family was ecstatic. We spent a couple of summers hanging out around the pool, sometimes spending an entire day relaxing in the sun. Mom and Nana were fond of laying out on inflatable mats. They'd slather themselves in suntan oil, pull down the straps of their swimsuits under their armpits and move their sunglasses to cover their eyes.
"Don't you push me into the water!" Mom would scream as she got comfortable on the mat.
She was never comfortable for too long. Papaw, Uncle Doug and I waited until she and Nana appeared relaxed to jump into the pool, splashing them with cold water. Then, one of us would swim under Mom's mat and shove her into the water. We didn't push Nana in, because she couldn't swim. She still can't; I suspect this is to avoid being terrorized in the pool.
My favorite summer memory took place on the Fourth of July at the pool. It was between 2000 and 2004, but I can't remember the exact date. I can remember many of Nana's siblings and their families crowding the pool. They were all there to celebrate Nana's birthday, which is on July 5. Nana seemed so happy to see so many people in her family at her home, knowing the distance some of them had to travel to get there.
We started the party early in the morning. Papaw and Nana started prepping the grill, and I helped greet everyone who arrived at the house. Around noon, we ate burgers and hot dogs. I was excited, because this meant it was time to get in the pool. When we all went outside, someone suggested a game of water volleyball.
There we were, my nana and everyone who loved her, hitting an oversized beach ball from person to person. The water sparkled, and Nana laughed more than she had in recent memory. When the day was over, I felt sad. I wasn't sure why. I remember my mom driving home from Nana's house. Sitting in the passenger seat with the wind in my hair, I suddenly felt as if I'd just lived a perfect day. I didn't want it to end.
That was the last day my family ever had like that. Papaw was diagnosed with cancer soon after that, and we spent the next couple of summers taking care of him. I preferred those summers to the one that came after it, when we spent three months trying to figure out how to live without him. We're still doing that.
Thinking back on those summers at the pool, I feel really lucky. During those years, my entire family was together and we were happy. Some people never get to feel that kindred spirit, and I was lucky enough to have it in my life for years.
Those of you who know what that feels like should cherish it. You can blink and 15 years will be gone, and all you'll have are memories of the people who made you who you are.
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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com.