The black, metal-bladed fan in the kitchen of my childhood whirred rhythmically back and forth, back and forth, the sound of summer growing alternately louder and softer with each ponderous rotation.
There were times when I felt certain I could hear my heart beating along with the fan’s movements, such was the atmosphere of peace and quiet that permeated our home in the summer.
Without televisions in every room and without surround-sound satellite systems and without computers that can talk and turn on lights, sometimes the loudest sound of a summer day was a chirping bird or a passing plane or the “thu-wump, thu-wump, thu-wump” of the washing machine spinning round and round.
Times truly were different then, not necessarily better and not necessarily worse. Lacking real-time visual stimulation, I spent hours engrossed in my own mind games, conjuring adventurous trips to far-away places and waiting for radio broadcasts of my favorite baseball team, listening for the roar of the crowd and the crack of the bat to let me know what was happening long before the announcer described the play.
Summertime has the ability, the tendency, even the purpose to draw from us the memory of what was and the dream of what can be. The summer’s dense, thick heat is merely a jumping-off point for introspection, richer and deeper than simply recalling a point in time measured by a thermometer. Scenes of a memorable summer day – whether one year or 50 years back – reside peacefully in a portion of the mind almost impossible to access during the rest of a year filled with work and school and myriad places to be and things to do.
Trigger-points for these reflections abound, if we’re looking; our cover story this month offers more than a few. Our story takes you back to what it was like years ago in our neighborhood, before air conditioning quenched a need people didn’t even know they had.
Those sounds of summer are still alive in our homes today, but we have to work harder and listen more carefully to hear them. Rise early some morning, when the sun is flirting with the horizon and, even in the city, the air is sweet and still, and mosey over to a favorite spot where you live. Then just sit there with your eyes closed and your ears at the ready for the hum of a refrigerator or the swoop and clack of an early-morning lawn sprinkler or the steady ticking of a clock counting down second after second after second.
Life is different these days, and summer is different, too.
But that long-ago place so dear to our hearts is still there, waiting for us to find our way back in time.
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