The heat. The heavy stillness of the air in late afternoon. The golden light of sunset. My mind’s eye is full of Summer scenes formed in my imagination while reading classic writers. How does it come to be that nights like last night make me think of Tennessee Williams? It happens every Summer without fail and it has for decades.
I once danced with my friend, Bruce, in a lesbian bar. I took the ‘woman’s position.’ He led. And when I stopped worrying about my feet, I was overcome. I thought of all the dancing scenes in so, so, so very many novels of Bronté, Austin, Eliot and the lot. In Bruce’s arms, I realized what it must have been like for the women, destined for marriage but rarely able to touch a man, who populated those novels. How they must have reeled to be taken into the arms of a man, held, guided, and breathed upon—all while tightly bound by fashion.
Experience brings deeper understanding to great reads of times past. Favourites that, when remembered, drown the mind with evocative images of scenes read. Summer is Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for me. I think of the picnics in so many novels and films, of Tom and Huck, of the corn as high as an elephant’s eye, of Scout, Dill and Jem and, of course Addison.
Winters were tough. Not the weather, the family. We were on a community cable, all the families in our neighbourhood. Mr. Warwick, one of our neighbours was an engineer. He built a monster antenna and strapped it to his house. All the houses within “our catchment’ got our TV signal from his tower—everyone he could reach without having his wire crossing a municipal street.
Suddenly we could watch American television networks, and on one of them, Lawrence of Arabia played every Christmas season. All the blue sky of that film, all the heat I felt watching the desert scenes. Summer for two hours in Winter was what that film brought me every year. Winter would disappear.
I loved Summer. I loved the season of light, from the start of Daylight Savings Time until labour day, when I could be outside at night. Away from home, alone or with friends, the heat of Summer was the feeling of freedom. I felt Summer on my skin every day that I could. There were rainy days, of course, but I don’t remember any of them.
I have images in my memory that I recall every single Summer. I remember the quiet and the dust of a parking lot, raised by cars droving by, that turned the early evening light into clouds of sparkling gold. I remember coming down a dune of beach sand on night a lifetime ago in the magic hour of late afternoon. It was somewhere people would go in Summer to get away from the city. A Summer vacation mecca near Vancouver. I see that image every hot and sensual Summer night like last night. I’ve been remembering that scene all my adult life.
I went to Europe with a list of things to see when I was nineteen. Years later, I was telling a story about that trip, and I realized I’d told it a few times—to other friends. I asked myself: Why is this story the one I always tell, and I decided that it was probably because the previous times I’d told it, I’d had a good reaction. That got me started thinking about other stories I liked to tell, and that led to an insightful realization: none of the stories I liked telling were about the items on the list of things I wanted to see. It wasn’t the monuments that inspired stories, my stories were always about insignificant moments, stored as idyllic images in my memory. Moments like me coming down a sand dune so long, long ago.
This summer is different. I’ve been hiding from the outdoors for the first time in my life, avoiding the sun, avoiding the heat, being an indoor person. It's okay, but very different. I hear my neighbour’s roosters. They are a prominent part of the soundtrack of my new way of experiencing summer—in the shade. It’s all okay. They call out loudly at night. Gertie, our community bus drives by as I haul the garbage container back to the shed. I wave to the driver and the dust coming up off the street glows like the dust in the parking lot at sunset so long, long ago. Summers were once all about the daytime; now, it’s Summer nights I love, when it’s cool, humid, and quiet and still. When the air is thick but comfortable. I thought often of Tennessee last night.