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The Very Next Thing

The Happiness of a Simple Summer
July 8, 2011 at 6:00 am

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My grandparents’ house was pretty much the perfect place to be in summertime.

They were early risers, and I remember my feet getting wet each morning as I stepped outside. With dew in my Keds, I knew something wonderful was ahead of me: a day of the same.

I remember it this way …

Bike rides around their circular driveway with my grandmother. She had a tall blue bike, and it made me happy to see her on it; the same way I felt when my grandpa would challenge me to a footrace.

Around age 7 I started to realize that my grandparents were old, and seeing them so active, getting outrun by a 68-year-old man, was somehow comforting.

They both stayed fit through exercise but also through hard work. My grandpa was a veterinarian and retired around when I was born. But they ran a family business together with my mom.

And my grandpa always had projects. He had things that needed to be accomplished and he was happy for my help — the kind of help only a curious 7-year-old could provide.

Once, he created a clubhouse for us. Another time he hung a tire swing. There were cat doors and dog houses. If nothing else, there was a giant tractor that always needed fixing.

But my grandparents’ house didn’t need much else to make it special.

It came equipped with a pear tree, an old water pump and a river; lots of trees and a ravine that seemed pretty magical. To one side there was a steep hill atop which my grandfather grew an experimental garden (peanuts!) while the other half was lush and green and mossy. It had corners. Perfect cozy corners and table-top tree stumps.

For lunch there was chicken soup and saltines, leftovers and canned fruit cocktail. For an afternoon snack there were ice cream bars. They never ran out. We were welcome to take as many as we wanted, although we usually just had one while sitting on the front porch during the very hottest part of the afternoon.

I remember summers of bike rides and outdoor tea parties, ice cream bars and Nancy Drew books. One after the other after the other. The books were like the ice cream bars (special, and to be enjoyed one at a time) except I was afraid that someday they would run out. It was my grandmother who reminded me about the pleasure of re-reading a much-loved book.

My grandparents never had air conditioning. They had fans and ice water. I remember sleeping on the living room floor to stay cool, and waking up knowing another day would hold so much of the same. My summer rhythm before I knew that that was.

My grandpa’s favorite expression was “it’s a bad day when you don’t learn something,” and he and my grandmother taught me plenty:

If you enjoy your work, it isn’t really work at all.

Still, take time for play and reading.

Get outside every day. Get your heart rate up. Real work makes you sweat.

Eat good food: vegetables you grow yourself; eggs; fruit; grains; real butter. Ice cream and cookies in moderation. Buckets of tea. Water from the well. 

Aim for a full night’s sleep, but don’t be afraid to take an afternoon siesta. It restores you. Speaking of which, go to sleep early, and wake up with the sun.

My son noticed the dew on the grass today, as we headed out for an adventure.

Remind me to tell you what wet grass always reminds me of, I said.

Because it always reminds me of my grandparents, and the sheer happiness of a simple summer.

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  1. What a wonderful story, Kara! My grandfather always grew the best tomatoes. He and I would walk out to the garden with a salt shaker and just sit there eating until we were stuffed. Every summer I remember our tomato times! Thanks for sharing and for reminding me of some of my own happy summer memories! :)

    Comment by Traci — July 8, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  2. I absolutely LOVE your posts about your family and your grandparents in particular. Thank you for bringing me back in time (to my grandparents summer lake house) and reminding me that although I may not be in Oconomowoc, WI it is still possible to recreate what really made those days so magical.

    Comment by Laura — July 8, 2011 @ 11:05 pm

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