A Summer Family Scrapbook

Simple pleasures, like enjoying ice cream with visiting family members, was a special part of our summer.

Simple pleasures, like enjoying ice cream with visiting family members, was a special part of our summer.

Late summer is always a somewhat melancholy time. The first yellow leaves appear on the trees, like the first stray gunshots in a revolution; the perennials are finishing their halfhearted secondary blooming; the school bus pass arrives, reminding our teen that his carefree summer vacation days will be over soon. We’ve set the date for closing the pool, the site of our stay-cation.

Today I’m feeling a little empty because the last of our summer visitors have departed. Bob’s brothers – Mike and wife Erica, and Tom and wife Linda – left yesterday after visiting for a long weekend from California and Switzerland. Bob’s cousin Joe, who is like a brother to him, and wife Bhavani drove up from Long Island to see everyone. A few weeks earlier two of our grown children, Rachel and Ryan, flew in from Los Angeles and Brighton, England for a week. My mom spent three weeks with us during the hottest part of the summer, enjoying the shaded patio and the air conditioning. My brother Dan visited with his wife Elena and son Tom for the first time in 15 years; my sister Julie drove up from Scranton for a weekend. Other visitors included cousins Nancy and husband Paul from Florida; their daughter Christy, son-in-law Tommy and adorable one-year-old twins;  our nephew Dan and new wife Cat; and cousin John and wife Katharine.

All of these visits from family have made it a memorable summer. Some of you whose families live too close may be tempted to say “so what?” or even to shudder at the thought of so much company. But anyone whose families live too far away to be part of their everyday lives will understand. Bob and I love the Boston area; we have built a life together here, replete with some great friends. We are fortunate that three of our five grown children live within an hour’s drive. But the rest of our families – the ones who were part of our childhood or who endured our early parenting mistakes; who know our secrets, our insecurities and our worst selves but love us anyway — are in different parts of the country and on different continents. As we get older, we yearn to pull them closer. But our lives rush by, and finding time and energy to connect is hard. This summer, fresh after installing our new pool, Bob and I made a full-court press to get more family members out here.

Just before each wave of visitors I usually got a wave of panic. I worried about planning delightful meals, scheduling stimulating activities so our visitors wouldn’t get bored, removing the schmutz on the powder room sink, whether the sheets smelled fresh enough and whether the closets were neat enough. I tend to put too much pressure on myself and irrationally assume that our visitors – even those we love — will be as hard on me as I am on myself. With my own kids I worried about making up for our long separation with endless intimate conversations. I wondered  whether being with them would painfully remind me of how separate our lives have become.

But from the moment each wave of company arrived I realized how silly I was to worry; I just let go and basked in the joy of having them close. We ended up just hanging by the pool or the hot tub, having long talks over very un-gourmet meals, taking walks, going out for ice cream and doing very little else.  In short, the perfect stay-cation.

If I could make a scrapbook of this past summer’s family memories, here is what I’d put in there:

Sharing conversation with my husband's brothers and their wives.

Sharing conversation with my husband’s brothers and their wives.

• Sharing the hot tub with my children Rachel, Ryan and John,  and singing along to a playlist Ryan made of early 90s songs, the soundtrack from our days at our old swim club when Rachel and Ryan were little.

• Watching Bob’s kids Rachel, Jesse and Ben float blissfully on rafts around the pool.

• Playing trivia games with Jesse, John and Jesse’s friends Chris and Kayla.

• Watching our kids’ delight as they towed dogs Gus and Rita around the pool on a raft.

• Seeing Bob relaxed, happy and deep in conversation with his brothers Tom and Mike and cousin Joe over late afternoon beers.

• Walking our dog Gus with John and sisters-in-law Linda and Erica — both beautiful, smart, strong women who are great role models and friends.

• Talking with my cherished sister Julie about our families and the great meals we have known, as we sipped wine out of plastic glasses and dangled our feet into the pool.

• Seeing my mom playing affectionately with our two dogs and surreptitiously slipping Gus half her sandwich — and realizing that she is a closeted dog lover who will never admit it.

• Having long stretches of quality time with my brother Dan, the sibling I see least, and listening to the passionate, intelligent and respectful discussion he had with my son Ryan about God and the universe. Regretting the long spaces between our visits.

• Introducing cousins Nancy and Paul to the joys of Pearl Hotdogs, which made them so happy that they planned to order 10 pounds of them to ship to their home in Florida.

• Watching Christy’s one-year-old son Benjamin take a dive into the pool and seeing her quick recovery of him. Regretting how quickly those years slipped away.

Gimme Swelter: 10 Tips for a Retro Summer Day

Your clothes will dry outside in less than an hour on a day like this.

Italian ice immediately lowers the temperature by at least 10 degrees.

What did we do before everybody had air-conditioning? We sought out the shade. We licked icy things. We ran through the sprinkler. We crowded in front of the most powerful fan in the house, which dried our sweat and garbled the words we spoke into it like a primitive synthesizer. We wore cotton baby doll pajamas and lay crosswise across our beds to best catch the breezes.

Soon the humidity is supposed to return to Boston, but today was still mighty hot and I wrestled with pushing the A/C button. Instead I gave myself a retro day and recreated the hot summer day of my 1960s youth…when nobody had air conditioning except for a few stores that advertised: “Come in, it’s Kool inside.” (Featuring a pack of Kool cigarettes.)

Here are a few things to try at home, guaranteed to lift your spirits and help you savor the summer regardless of the heat index. Of course, you need a clear schedule to do this.

Go barefoot through the grass early in the morning, and enjoy the cool feeling of the dew before the blazing heat turns the crabgrass all crunchy. I did this as I watered our window boxes.

This time of year gives me the blues.

Pick blueberries. They are at their peak in the sweltering days of July. Look for the ones that have shiny blue patches on them; the opaque purple ones need a few more days. Go in the morning before the heat gets unbearable.

This zucchini is great on the grill.

Visit a farm stand. Keep a local farmer in business. I found freshly picked zucchini, summer squash and the season’s first corn. I’m planning to grill the squash and make corn fritters for dinner some time.

Get some really fresh eggs. Chickens lay more eggs in hot weather, and luckily a friend of mine happens to have some in her back yard. She let me take a dozen eggs off her hands so that I could…

Make deviled eggs. The quintessential picnic food; one I never see during the winter. I use plenty of mayo, some mustard, pickle juice, salt and pepper.

Deviled eggs are the perfect retro summer snack.

Hang your clothes outside. They will dry in about an hour. When you carry them inside for folding, bury your face in the pile and inhale deeply.

Make iced tea. A half gallon of ginger peach tea is chilling in the fridge right now.

Go out for Italian ice. Cherry ice reminds me of Fourth of July in my old home town in suburban Philadelphia. The Rosati Water Ice company always gave out free cups of water ice on the fourth, complete with a wooden spoon for scraping out every bit of goodness. Today’s, alas, had a plastic spoon but it still brought me back.

For added nostalgia, make sure your purveyor of Italian ice has a window that looks like this.

Have a siesta under a whirling ceiling fan. I spent part of this afternoon reading the New York Times on our screened-in porch under the fan.


Take a shower at night. It will wash off the day’s sweat and cool you off, and you’ll feel mighty good slipping into the sheets.