By Kelly Foster
Many of my best feelings in spring are because of summer.
Thawed, the spring breeze kisses the skin instead of biting it. In Mississippi, by the time the azaleas have reached their full (albeit transitory) pomp and circumstance, the sun-drenched days feel as unreal as if conjured out of a Technicolor dream sequence. It feels like Brigadoon.
I’ve been sending pictures of the mist in my green-draped backyard to friends in colder places to show off the beauty. My bed abuts French doors that lead out to my stone patio. Every morning lately, when I mourn the fact that I have to stir, I let myself take a glance through the open blinds. The sun is pinking the sky. The mist is rising. The dew lingers on crepe myrtle branches. Overnight, the leaves appear more plentiful. And keep multiplying everywhere.
Sometimes I even clap my hands rapidly in bed, which is what I do when I’m excited.
It’s spring. Spring! Summer’s so close.
I take my students outdoors every chance I get. Week before last, it was to practice for our annual Powder Puff football game. We practiced three or four times more than we needed during Study Halls or immediately after school. We took off our shoes and ran around the football field. The boys practiced cheers. The girls practiced plays. Everyone got just a little bit sunburned. It was great.
Our campus is situated on approximately forty sloping acres of hills and fields. Every door leads directly outside. There are only a few interior hallways. During the spring, even on the most chaotic days, you can become almost light drunk because of all the sun—because of the sun on your skin when you walk outside, because of the sun in the breeze on any bit of you that opens a door.
I think the spring intoxication increases exponentially when one is tied, however willingly, to a nine-month school calendar. Because by the time the azaleas bloom, by the time you can get a little bit sunburned on a football field, by the time you no longer have to wear tights and your legs are free to breathe, by the time it’s pleasant to walk barefoot through the grass, it’s almost summer.
Now, summer in Mississippi is one reason that people here love spring so much. In case you’ve never been down here between the months of June and September, you should know, it’s pretty horrible. The oppressive air becomes, as one of my students recently put it, like breathing “wet, hot velvet.” Your legs sweat and stick to the seats of cars. Cars become convection ovens.
No matter how effective your air conditioner is and how frequently it kicks in, you are never quite comfortable sleeping at night, even above the covers, even with only a thin, cotton sheet for comfort’s sake. If you stay outside for fifteen minutes without sunscreen, you are no longer pleasantly warmed by the sun, but poached by it.
If it were only determined by the weather, summer would be my least favorite season in Mississippi.
But you can love a season for so much more than weather.
And summer has meant a great many good things to me over the years—freedom from routine, respite from the unceasing demands of school, time to swim, time to read, time to stay up late, time to sleep in. To wake up with coffee and stay in your own house. To attend early matinees. To eat lunch out. Or even better, brunch out.
But early summer in particular has one very special significance in my family. Thanks largely to the efforts of my grandfather and mother, my family has more often than not taken an annual trip to the beach sometime in the first two weeks of summer—usually to the Gulf Coast of Florida. And my whole enormous extended family would go—aunts, uncles, and cousins. The summer I was ten, almost thirty of us shared one house. It was one of my favorite trips.
Because the trip was usually taken at the beginning of summer vacation (prices are cheaper if you get in before Memorial Day), the seven-hour ride to the beach was vastly symbolic of everything infinitely unencumbered. My shoulders felt looser. My dad seemed funnier. My mom was more relaxed. I could even tolerate my little brothers with some measure of equanimity.
Every night, the whole crew would walk down the beach together, stepping over hermit crabs, watching the sun set, sinking our feet into tiding sand, telling funny stories, telling scary stories. Everyone and everything seemed interesting.
Since my grandfather died my sophomore year of college, the trip has dwindled somewhat in numbers, most recently being comprised only of my immediate family. We were grateful for the addition last year of my sister-in-law, who brightened things considerably for the rest of us. My brother keeps saying we should take a break from the beach until some of us start having kids, because it isn’t quite the same without them, a bit of the levity gets lost on us duty-bound adults, even in the lightest summer clothes.
When I was the kid on the way to the beach, my mom always let me know when we were about to glimpse the first bit of blue Gulf on the burnished horizon. When it peeped over the dash of the car, sitting between my parents (this was before car seats were quite so strictly mandated) with one arm happily on each of their shoulders, I would shout, “Big water! Big water!”
On the worst days of winter, I close my eyes and see the horizon open, lined at its base with blue. I see myself walking casually, hopefully, freely towards big water. And it’s almost summer. Almost.