These are the golden hours. These warm soft-blue days of June. Yesterday, I was sitting in my backyard, listening to the wind in the trees, the running river sound of it mixed with insistent birdsong, an aria urgency, getting the bird-point across, then the usual summer hammering, everybody's fixing things up. My cat lolled and stretched her whole cat-self on the sunlit bricks. A fly landed on my kneecap, shoulder. I brushed it away and saw the hair on my arm was blonder now from being out in the sun, gardening, playing tennis, golf, reading...yes, I know. Be careful of the sun! So I put on my straw hat and moved into the shade under the patio umbrella, moving into the memory of other summers:
I'm fourteen and my sister will be eighteen in a few days, and we're lying on chaise lounges in the gravel of the sideyard by the garbage cans because that's where the sun is strongest, not a speck of shade, and we've slicked our bikini bodies with Johnson's Baby Oil, and we each hold a sheet of aluminum foil under our chins to catch the rays and bounce them more thoroughly onto our faces. We want to be tan. We want to be as "brown as berries," as Mom used to say. Is there such a thing as a brown berry? Excuse me while I check Wikipedia:
"The phrase seems to have originated in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", The Cooks Tale, line 44:
There lived a 'prentice, once, in our city,
And of the craft of victuallers was he;
Happy he was as goldfinch in the glade,
Brown as a berry, short, and thickly made,
With black hair that he combed right prettily.
What berry did Chaucer have in mind? I'm going to make a guess that he was using some obsolete meaning for berry to speak of grain. Whole, unground grains are sometimes referred to as berries, such as wheatberry. The dictionary.net definition of "berry" is a coffee bean, so "brown as a berry" could mean "brown as a coffee bean."
However, if indeed Chaucer is the origin of the phrase, toasted wheatgrains are more likely than coffee beans, since Europeans in Chaucer's time did not have coffee beans."
Okay, I'm back. I suppose that explains it.
Anyway, there we are, my sister and I, in the sideyard rotisserie, roasting ourselves. We wanted to be tan. We wanted to be beautiful. We wanted boys to love us. We wanted to turn those boys' heads, have them follow us, marry us, give us eternal happiness, we believed in Prince Charming and the glass slipper and the entire fairy tale of happily-ever-after, despite so much proof all around us to the appalling contrary. We believed beauty, a tan, could solve everything, and we'd spend half the day tanning and then the rest of the day in the bathroom curling our hair or uncurling it, (my sister ironed her hair sometimes, yes, on the ironing board, that's all we had then, none of those fancy gadgets were invented yet), putting on make-up, curling our eyelashes, remember that?, getting dressed, what do you think of this with this or this with that or what about this instead, and piles of clothes on the floor on the bed on the dresser the dresser drawers hanging open. And then we'd go down to the town rec center and play ping pong or just stand there in a perfumed circle talking to other girls all gussied up and wait, wait, wait breathlessly for a BOY to stroll over and open his incredible mouth and speak to us. "Uh, hi." Oh, God. It was unendurable, the joy of his crackly boy-voice. Life had begun!
Summer. For fourteen summers, my family and two other families went to Russian River and stayed in this huge cabin. We had a blast, all the kids. I'm sure the parents did, too, or at least it looked that way to me. I'm sure they were drinking too much, but we were bohemians so what the hell. No one was out of control. Yet. I remember dancing every night in the cabin, playing 45's and then down at the Odd Fellows Hall by the river. We also played a thousand games of cards: Fish, Concentration, Rummy, Poker. We hiked and swam and played tennis and ate hot dogs and burgers and corn on the cob and popcorn and sno-cones and red licorice and French Fries and Frosty Cones and Junior Mints and Waldorf salads and jello salads and macaroni and cheese. We performed in the Talent Show. We laughed our asses off. For three solid weeks, life could not have been better.
They were the golden hours. I have a poem titled "Russian River" in my book Buddha's Dogs. It really was a time of innocence. I am grateful for the experience, before it was written on the water, flowing down to the sea.
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