Aug 2, 201012:00 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde: Whatever Happened to Summer?
Summer used to have more smells to it. For me, it was that of the bubble gum that came with baseball cards, flavored syrup on snowballs and the sweet whiff of a freshly cut watermelon. There was the saltwater smell from the lake and the tingle of chlorine from pools.
Summers are different now. As the season enters its last month for another year, again I have that feeling that the calendar has eluded me. I realized that one day when, during lunch, I was driving through City Park. There was activity on the tennis courts, right in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Then the thought hit me, as though I needed to be reminded –– it was summer. Being in school provided a sense of the seasons, even when the seasons themselves did not look appreciatively different. Summer, of course, is what schoolkids yearned for. School required rules and standing in line; summer was liberating.
Now the weekdays of our summers are spent in 72-degree temperatures. The trees as seen from the office windows look the same all year-round. We’re aware that it is summer because it is hot and the days are longer, but excitement of the season is gone. People are even forgetting what summer is supposed to be: I’ve heard more people than ever complain that it has been hot this summer. It’s as though we’re all hibernating in central air, gradually losing our resistance to the heat. “It’s summer, and it’s supposed be hot,” I’ve reminded people, who merely shook their head convinced that the warmth was a conspiracy of El Niño, La Niña, global warming or the Bermuda Triangle.
One summer weekday afternoon several years ago, I happened to stop at my house to pick up something. Rarely am I there around noon on a weekday. I was surprised to see a group of little boys, kids of the neighborhood, swinging, faster than they should, on my porch swing. They bolted upon spotting me as though I was the wicked witch. Behind them were the artifacts from little boys at play –– a candy wrapper, a soft drink can. Freed from school, they were clearly feeling the thrill of summer, living its moments, exploring the intricacies of the neighborhood. Their lives knew no property boundaries. Another day I saw them playing football –– with a makeshift ball –– in a neighbor’s yard. A day later two of them were standing at a street corner working at the necessary business of trying to jump so high as to touch the writing on a stop sign. Not at all bothered by the heat, the boys spent their days somewhat bored –– but totally liberated.
Those boys got to know summer, but they never knew lightening bugs. My generation may be the last to have even faint memory of the flying insects that flashed streaks of light through the quiet summer nights. The bugs were like shooting stars, only closer. Mosquitoes were once a less-pleasant reminder of summer. The same poison that eradicated them took away the gentle lightning bugs, as well. Now the summer sky is even quieter.
As fall arrived when I was kid, the night took on a special sound, at least where I lived. I was raised near City Park where the change of season was heralded by the announcer’s echo from the nearby City Park stadium. The ricocheting voice told of passes caught and tackles made by the year’s crop of young men turned to high school gladiators. In the background were cheers and fight songs.
Those boys who explored our neighborhood during summer have not been back since Katrina and are now facing other realities. If they are getting ready for school, the grass-stained smell of baseballs is in their past, giving way to the short-lived smell of new textbooks. Since they will be contained indoors, they might not notice nature’s subtle changes as the crape myrtles lose their brilliant summer blossoms and the oak trees begin their bombardment of acorns.
Once the excitement of the new school year wears away, those boys will again be anticipating the summer. Maybe one day in the future, they will stop and wonder about whatever happened to their autumns.
Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e-mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266)
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