Monday, August 25, 2014

Fading Summer (Revised)

Tis the last rose of summer
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone.

~ Thomas More

Today I sit in my garage and watch the hot summer slowly fade away. If going to school had any prolonged effect on me it was that it permanently adjusted the way I view the passing of a year.  I am forced by convention to follow the calendar and the weather, but internally, I still view the beginning of a year when the first school bell rings. That is when summer is over.  Many, who wear white shoes, traditionally mark the end of summer as Labor Day, but I think we all know that summer does not end abruptly on that date.  It just quietly, almost imperceptibly moves into autumn, unnoticed that it is gone until the leaves and temperatures begin to drop. 

There are early signs that summer has begun to fade when the sun goes down earlier and earlier, comes up later and later, and mornings and nights are cool.  The flip-flops, bathing suits, balls, and bikes are replaced by stacks of school supplies and schedules on the kitchen table.  I start thinking about clearing the brush and contemplating when will be the right time to store certain things.  Children become anxious, part nervous about what the new year will hold. They are part anxious and part excited about seeing friends and embracing the new.  Despite their complaints I sense that as they try on their new clothes and shoes there is an unspoken desire to show everyone how much they have changed and grown over the summer.  My high school daughter got a cut and dyed her hair. For them is it a new beginning. For some of us it is just yet another change in the seasons.

As the older ones have come by the studio to say their final good-byes and thank me for a good season, I can already feel the deafening silence bubbling up; ready to fill my days with long periods of unwanted quiet.  I know that I will still have people in the house and the ones that have gone will return from time to time, each on their own, but it’s sometimes difficult  to remember that when summer begins to fade.

I would never give up the way I work and live, but it is sometimes hard when your days stop revolving around clocks, getting people to where they need to be, and you now have to force some discipline and structure into your life, or else you wind up as T.S. Eliot said, “Measuring your life with coffee spoons.” In the summer it is easier.  I measure my time by when Karen leaves for work, when the dog wants to be fed, when Meredith gets up, when I shove boys out of bed, get them to work or on trains; when I feel like a walk in the afternoon, when it’s time to make dinner for everyone, when certain radio programs or sports come on, when the sun goes down, when the tribe assembles at night in the studio, or when I am finally tired and it is time to put my tools away, to read, and go to sleep. 

When summer is over I spend most of my time alone during the day working and I admit I sometimes get lost in it.  I have to start setting alarms to remind me to eat and take medicine because there is nothing or anyone there to remind me of what time it is. I print calendars and make lists to keep myself focused, but nevertheless time becomes irrelevant until family returns late in the day, and chaos breaks loose with practices, homework, and all sorts of other distractions outside the house.  As the boys have grown and moved into their own spaces, on to their own lives, those distractions are fewer and fewer.   

This has been a great summer although it went by so fast it should be ticketed. We didn’t do anything special this summer, didn’t go anywhere, and yet we always found ways to enjoy the time. We went on walks together and played in the backyard.  We attended concerts and summer plays.  We went to graduation and birthday parties; we barbecued with friends.  I got to meet and talk with a lot of the neighbors I didn’t know as well, as they walked their dogs down the sidewalk outside my house. We had a couple of the boys from the tribe and family from out-of-state stay with us, which along with the people who just hang out here at night, kept the homestead hopping.  We had visits to and from Ben and Kayla and sometimes we went into the city to visit them or to the zoo and places with guests.  There was a lot of laughter, moments of joy and a few tears shed.  There was pride and exaltation; there was anger and disappointment, but what summer is complete without those elements.  It is part of the fabric of the thing. In my mind summer is nothing but a transition from one year to the next.

The middle son made the decision to leave this year.  Having established in his mind what his calling was, he pulled up stakes and embarked on one of the great adventures he will have in his life. He is living alone in an apartment, and studying books and writing.  We won't see him much. I couldn’t be more thrilled that this is the path that he chose, because I know it is his passion, but I am also biased. His older brother and sister cried with their mother all of the way home, because although Iowa City is not that far away, it is not home where we are accustomed to having him. I did not cry.

My daughter does not like to be hugged or touched unless she initiates it. As a diabetic she is poked and prodded constantly, so I avoid hugging her unless she asks  me to. That night as I was walking in on the doorstep she asked me for a hug. We stood for a long time together, holding, under the glaring lights on the porch. I realized that just as she had formed a real loving friendship with her brother, he left. I felt so sad for her.
Later that night after Karen, my wife, took the oldest, Ben, home to his apartment in the city, I stood in my studio, listened to the crickets, and realized that it was unlikely that it would be as full as it was in the past. I looked at the empty chair he always sat in and I cried. An era had ended. Still, I thought about how lucky I am that God put me in a place I never imagined being in, but am so very sure is where I belong.  And who knows, perhaps a new generation fueled by my spirited daughter will move in to take over where another has left. I’m working towards that.

As summer begins its exit for this year I too am anxious.  While I am ready to embrace the new and see what the next year holds for me, for all of us, I retain a certain amount of trepidation.  I am entering new territory, where it is me, my wife, and a nearly 17-year-old daughter who I’m just getting to know as a young woman.  I see a lot of good things on the horizon though.  I took Meredith to a job interview today that went very well. We high-fived in the car and chest-bumped on the driveway. We had a wicked, unhealthy meal of fried chicken for dinner. It was glorious. I cling to that joy  The mystic scares me a bit. I’m used to doing things the way I have always done them.  Maybe though it is time to dig up some things and lay down some new roots. Time to change things up somewhat.

The tough thing about being a parent is you watch your children make up exciting new songs in their lives, and yet to some degree you feel like your song remains the same.  I think the real challenge is to have a new melody to present to those at home and those that come home to listen to you play.  I like that challenge.

As we march into autumn in its glory and then push through another winter, waiting desperately for the renewal and rejuvenation that comes with spring, I think about a quote I once read.  It said something to the effect that while tans may fade away the memories of our summers never will.  They will be there to inform and lift our spirits the rest of the year and the rest of our lives, not to be replaced by next year’s summer memories, but to be built upon.  I think that is a good thing to think about as the blooms leave the moss roses and the ferns brown in the dog days of this summer as it winds to a close.

The weather won’t quite change for awhile, and although the dynamic in my postage stamp of the world is changing, I intend to seriously seize every last moment of this summer I can, and then to seize every moment of autumn, winter, and spring as well, making and keeping memories as I go along.  

Summer is fading, you can feel it all of the time, but that doesn’t mean I have to let go of any of it.  Memory is there for now. It will always be in the back of my mind and squarely in front of me, as well as all the new layers that get added on. I can’t wait to share.