Thursday, June 29, 2006

Those Summer Nights

Summertime brings back so many memories to me, starting with summer evenings spent chasing fireflies in my jammies with Jeffy from across the street. We ran around the yard playing tag and keeping an ear cocked for the Mister Softee truck.

I grew up on a large corner lot in a housing development in the suburbs. The local parades went right past our house. We'd sit out front on patriotic holidays and watch the parade, then retire to the backyard for a barbecue. Barbecues were the only time Dad ever cooked. Mom did all of the prep, of course, but Dad would handle the grill. Except when he forgot. OK, lets just say that Mom did ALL of the cooking!

The kitchen was on the second floor of our split-level home. The house was built with a front door and a side door, but no back door (Dad added one later, with stairs leading up to the second level). To avoid taking all of the food down the stairs then out the door and around to the back of the house, Mom used to hand stuff out to us through the kitchen window. The snow drifts would pile up under this window every winter, engendering stern admonishments for me to stay out of the drifts or I'd die in them, or something like that.

On the fourth of July we'd sit in the backyard at sunset. You could see the local fireworks from there. If the mosquitoes were bad (hey, this is New Jersey, mosquitoes are the state bird here) we'd watch from the picture window upstairs. It never occurred to me that not everyone had this luxury. It's tantalyzing to me now when I hear the distant explosions at 9pm on the 4th but can't see anything from my deck.

I spent many summers working at camp. I remember the first time I had to take a group of campers (I worked with the youngest ones, about 7 years old) on a cookout. Cookouts at camp were the real deal. You had to gather the firewood and build a fire from scratch (we did use matches, however). The first time was pretty comical. I think it took me something like an hour just to get the fire started. I was covered in soot and dirt from head to toe from kneeling on the ground and blowing on the "fire" to get it going. Literally covered in soot. Face and all. I don't quite remember the meal, but I suspect that it might not have been the best of fare. My poor campers were moaning, complaining of hunger and fatigue. I think my unit director finally stopped by to help me get it together.

I improved on my outdoor cooking skills after that. I haven't built a cooking fire for several years, but I'll bet I still could! I have to say that the food was truly marvelous when cooked over an open wood fire. My favorite cookout meal was camp stew. Camp stew was made by browning bacon, then setting it aside, then browning chopped onions and beef. The bacon was added back in, and spaghetti sauce (any plain Jane generic canned sauce would do), canned potatoes (those little round ones) and canned carrots were added. Once that was all heated through, chunks of cheddar cheese were added for the coup de grace. The finished product was the most wonderful meal imaginable. It was served with doughboys (bisquick mixed with water and wrapped around a stick, then cooked over the fire) and bug juice. Mmmm, bug juice! And what would a cookout be without s'mores for dessert?

Sometimes we would camp out overnight, as well. I always tried to get the bluff site. Once the campers were settled into their tents for the night (yes, I had to pitch the tents, too!), I would lay a tarp out on the edge of the bluff (head by the edge so I couldn't roll off) and put my sleeping bag on it. I'd fall asleep under the big big sky, full of brilliant stars, overlooking the wide river. Sometimes moonlight lit a path to dreams across the rippling surface of the water. The horns of the big ships out in the channel would lull me to sleep. I was far too tired to care about bugs, or snakes, or the bats swooping over my head, and no one worried too much about ticks back then. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was rare on the East Coast, and noone had ever heard of Lyme Disease. I have never slept so soundly or felt so at peace as I did back then.

I suppose I could go on and on about those summer nights. There were quiet ones and fun ones and romantic ones enough to fill a lifetime (my lifetime). Here we are at act one, scene one of a new summer. How will your script read this year?


MissMagnoliaThunderpussy said...

Darling, I think all you have to do to build a fire is rub two boy scouts together. ;)

Merci said...

Miss Magnolia-
If only I'd known the secret back then! All I had was matches. Practically useless.

PaxRomano said...

Thanks for that wonderful memory...a great posting!

Merci said...

Thank you, Pax!