It’s true. I admit it. I’m not a winter person.
As I write this, schools (and work) have been closed thanks to a wintry mix of snow and ice. When my son wakes, it will be all I can do to find his boots in time before he runs out of the house, pell mell toward the hill with sled at his side. That will be fun for a bit, and the following fire in the fireplace, a lovely bowl of homemade soup with my freshly baked bread, games to play and a book nearby will help us pass the day away.
Still, I dream of summer: hot, sticky afternoons turning into hot sticky nights in the days before air conditioning. I fondly recall time spent in the Severn River swimming, diving, canoeing, or sailing, long before kayaks were all the rage; and I truly dream of the frequent crabbing sessions. We’d lean way out over the edge of a pier to see if the weighted chicken neck attracted the attention of a blue crab big enough to be a keeper, the imprint of the dock’s weathered boards leaving their mark on my t-shirt and mind for years to come.
For what seemed an all too brief time in my life, my family lived in a magical place near Annapolis, Maryland. We referred to it as “the Forest” or “Sherwood” … it might as well been called heaven to a kid, though. When we were summer people, we had a small green clapboard-sided cottage with white trim on Robin Hood Road – it was more of a loop, where we lived with screen doors slamming as all four of us kids ran in and out constantly off to club (they now call it camp), or back in from some waterfront activity. From the breakfast table, we’d call across ravines to friends to see who was going where when; we walked, ran, or rode bikes everywhere (the kids now take golf carts to their destinations); we swam in the river (there’s now a pool – can you imagine?); and when we got older, we visited “The Pit” – a nice name for a place to hang out at night with the same kids we were in club with all day.
The house is still there, but it’s now a three-story, glassed-in, protected-from-the-elements fortress. Hard to recognize, to say the least. There will be no undetected slipping out of those screen windows. When that window opened to the bedroom I shared with my two sisters, we regularly rolled out of bed in shorts and flip flops to meet friends down at the river for a moonlight dip. I’m sure my parents knew we did it, but it seemed like harmless, covert fun at the time.
There were dances in the clubhouse, church services in the fellowship hall, and a ten-pin bowling alley down below where my younger brother earned a little money straddling the alley so he could jump down to reset the pins for the next bowler. It was a coveted job, to be sure. When he finished a shift, he would promptly head over to the General Store, ask Duffy to make something substantial for a snack, and often as not, charge it to my parents’ account. Standing tall in his white apron, Duffy took on many roles: cook, store clerk, postmaster, and stand-in parent to all the kids of Sherwood with a watchful eye and a stern warning for anyone who crossed the line with one too many sweets. The store is still there. It’s a gourmet deli, though, and Duffy is long gone.
We played volleyball, tennis, softball, badminton, golf, and water polo. Archery was an activity for everyone, as was lacrosse. Soccer (in the days before the current soccer craze) and lacrosse were played on the same small field – at least I remember it as small, compared to the mega-soccer complexes of today.
And even on the coldest mornings (and there were cold mornings in Maryland during the summer), if swimming was the first activity of the day, we were in the water, struggling to get warm under the tutelage of Coach Cropp, and battling sea nettles. Swimming across the river was a rite of passage. At the end of summer, as a team we swam across the river en masse to psyche out the opposing time –they swam in a pool, for heaven’s sake. The trick worked well, as I recall – plus, we’d had our warm up on the way. The only down side was we had to swim back after the meet was over, and we were tired and hungry. Or at least I was. But we all made it. We all survived. We all reveled in the days of summer in Sherwood Forest.
The annual end of summer event to top all, the Corn Roast, was something special – so special, I made the trek back to attend one after many years’ absence. Aside from the family grills blazing and a beer truck at the ready, the centerpiece of the event is the definitely the corn. Large ditches are dug, fires smolder all afternoon, and corn—still in the husk—is steamed in metal canoes. Burlap is fitted over the top of the canoe and hosed down from time to time, making the absolute best corn I have ever tasted. Ever. Thoughts of visiting with old friends on Robin Hood Beach, watching the dolled-up girls make their entrance, (many of them are my dear friends’ daughters) bring a smile to my lips on a bitter cold morning. Ah, summer.
These memories flutter in and out of my mind on cold mornings as I begin in earnest my next novel. The characters deal with similar living conditions, though they have far less than we ever did. They just don’t know it. Nobody knew what life would hold. (I’m not sure any of us grownups do now, either.)
The story is set in 1942 in a small North Carolina village greatly impacted by the Great Depression and subsequent war. Summer in this waterside village is very similar in climate to Maryland’s, with sticky days, bugs, and the incredible cacophony of bugs at night where the only protection might be a screened porch – a thin veil separating occupants of home from the incredible outside life. Activities vary, but still focus on water.
While the characters and story are fictitious, the place was at one time very real, very much alive with families. There was a schoolhouse, a store, a church, and homes with gardens. There was a cemetery, which still remains on a bluff overlooking a river.
With the exception of the cemetery, the village doesn’t exist anymore. In many ways, it reminds me of the Sherwood Forest of my childhood. It no longer exists either, though the place is still very much there – just in a different way. Ah, the lens of childhood.
Laura S. Wharton is the Second Wind author of The Pirate’s Bastard and the forthcoming children’s story, Mystery at the Phoenix Festival. Learn more about her and her books at http://www.LauraWhartonBooks.com or laurawharton.blogspot.com.