SideLines: Appreciating the many faces of the summer season

Some summer thoughts:

I was going to work last week, just cruising along Route 23 when I suddenly had to slam on my brakes. Right in front of Walmart, a mother duck and four little ducks decided to cross the busy four-lane road, taking their own sweet time.

Although the angry driver who kept hitting his horn behind me didn’t understand at first, I was able to stop in time. Which was good, since the little duck family was in absolutely no hurry, crossing the road in single file, looking around like they didn’t have a care in the world. The mother was in the lead, followed by the four little ducklings, with what I assume was the father taking up the rear.

To paraphrase Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye,” I don’t know where ducks go during the winter, but I sure know where they are during the summer. And that’s everywhere. At least in front of Walmart, that little pond just west of Malta and most definitely at the lagoon by Northern Illinois University.

For many people, summer starts Memorial Day weekend. Schools are ending, the weather is turning warm and everywhere you look, someone is firing up their grill. For others, it doesn’t officially begin until June 21. For me, summer begins when I see my first lightning bug, usually around mid-June.

To this day, I am fascinated by that little flash of light, unexpected and silent, floating ever so gently in the darkening air. For some reason, we used to catch them as kids and keep them in jars with holes punched in the lids. I regret that now. Today, like so many other things, I’m content to just let them be and to marvel at these little creatures of summer.

In a lot of ways, summer is like baseball, the sport it breeds – a nostalgic time for remembering what once was and wondering where it went.

When I was young, summer meant endless days of swimming, fishing, riding your bike, playing baseball games in the vacant lot at the end of your block, lemonade stands, reunions with family you didn’t know and wouldn’t see again until next year, playing hide and seek after the sun went down and that enchanting little jingle the ice cream truck made as it turned the corner of your block, sort of like the Pied Piper. Back then, the highlight of every summer was spending a week at the house of my cousin in DeKalb, who was the same age as me and probably close to being the brother I didn’t have.

As a teenager, summer meant living in short pants and T-shirts, suntans, detasseling corn or working at Del Monte during the day, playing pickup basketball games after supper, going to drive-in theaters on the weekend and taking long drives at night with the music blaring over the radio. Back then, music wasn’t just music, it was a way of life. Or so we thought.

When you grow older summer changes again. Your biggest concern is that the air conditioner works. Except when I’m working, I really don’t mind the hot weather, although my cat will occasionally dart me a dirty look as if it’s my fault when the humidity gets too high. I don’t look forward to summer anymore; I also don’t dread it. I simply accept its arrival, as well as its departure, the same as any other season.

As summers go, however, this has been an interesting one. One day last month, I had to turn the heater on in my car as I drove to work, I was glad the office had air conditioning during the day, and then had to switch the heater back on when I went home.

Last summer, we were praying for rain. Until recently, it seemed God didn’t want to turn off the faucet. I suppose in the end, like everything else, it all balances out.

Whatever summer means to you, we can probably agree that it usually ends when the college kids come back – which won’t come soon enough for some and too fast for others.

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