Summers in a small town can be tough. School is out and there are no sports or schedules to keep. There is no Thanksgiving dinner to prepare or mornings full of presents to anticipate. There are no freshly blooming flowers or egg hunts in backyards. There are no shopping malls to fill your time or fancy restaurants to visit. In fact, summers in a small town consist of mostly just thick heat, sweaty car rides, grumpy kids and impatient parents.
Unless you live where I live.
Where I live, summer is when everything comes alive. The Mississippi river yawns and extends its current like an arm reaching for friends who, impatiently, have been waiting to pull the tarps from their boats. Catfish jump through bays as young children are learning to fish with parents eager to show them all of the good spots they used to visit when they were little. The Fourth of July brings vacationers from around the state who park their campers on river beaches and await some of the most spectacular displays of lights in the sky. River tributaries are full of inner tubes that take riders through the twists and turns of nature, revealing thirsty deer, red fox and an occasional cottontail rabbit. Backyard pools sparkle their freshness to families and friends, and welcome lazy days lounging in the sun. Kids race their bikes through quiet streets and parents walk their toddlers to the park. Sweet smelling carnivals spend weeks beckoning people to play their games and young couples fall in love a top ferris wheels.
Where I live, the summer is the start of it all. And there are times when I take it for granted. For me, summer is the time when work at my full-time job slows down a bit and I can breathe. So naturally, I want to leave and travel. It seems to be the time when I most want a “break” from this small town and head to Kansas City or maybe the beach where, as I say, the “real summer stuff happens.”
But then I take the boat onto the river. I sip cool drinks, lay in the sun, and watch young kids in their life jackets throw water at each other, fully capable of appreciating what they have far better than I do. I go to the band on the beach and spend the early evening dancing to country music. Then when the sun goes down I join family and friends around a fire that burns late into the night.
When I was a kid my family lived so far from here and I longed to spend summers in this small town. I cried at the thought of only being here over a weekend or sometimes not at all. I ached for the feeling of running the safe streets with my cousins to the local diner for an ice-cream cone. Always living in a city, I longed for the fresh air and freedom that came with my visits every summer. I missed the secure feeling of being surrounded by people that knew who you were and would look out for you. There was nothing else like it.
Now, I live here. And all of the things that I wanted growing up, I get. And in 6 short months I will be raising a child here.
It’s funny how things come full circle in ways you never thought they would.