There is just something wonderful about the beginning of summer. Maybe it is the freedom that we–even as adults–feel once school has ended. Or maybe it is the lengthening of days and the vegetable stands and sunburned skin.
I was reminded of the magic of a summer evening as I drove along a rural portion of a South Carolina interstate earlier this week. Mesmerized by the way the trees filtered the late afternoon/early evening sun, I watched as dust particles danced like fairies in the space between the trees and grass. My mind slipped easily back to a day in my childhood–summer 1974–in the small, mid-Western town of my youth…
A chair pushes back, side door opens and the screen door slams shut. The mother’s voice yells unheard to the girl bare feet, bed-messed hair, eyes minutes from sleep. The girl pauses on the steps and surveys the yard feeling the warmth of the sun on her cheeks and shoulders.
Her head snaps to the right, hair flying as the dog runs barking towards her. Slobbers and paws and too much fur greet her. Laughing she pushes the part-collie, part-cocker spaniel, part-dachshund aside and races down the stairs jump-stepping onto the stones with grass creeping around the edges. Finally—bare feet already hardened sink into cool, soft, blue-green blades. The day stretches out before her for miles.
The phone has already rung. Secret plans have already been whispered. The girl moves to the back of the old house picking her way across the sharp gravel to the dark, cool basement dug into the hill. Quickly, to avoid the spiders and bugs and musty smell, she retrieves her bike: purple frame, glitter banana seat, name plate, tall fluorescent flag to catch the wind.
Scrambling up the slope, she makes her way to the street and hops on. She pedals the flat stretch of road passing one, two, three, four Victorian houses. Then there is the hill. The hill where the car slammed into one of Dr. Donnelly’s Saint Bernards laying in the street smashing the front of the car while the huge monster lumbered across to its home. The hill that she flies down but dreads pushing the bike back up. The hill that the girl’s father walks daily down into the town and up onto the college campus.
Pedaling faster and faster to gain speed, she sails down the hill, trees and leaves and grass and houses all swooshing past. Finally hill turns flat and she pedals on to the house with white picket fence—the manse for the Presbyterian preacher and his family. The house with the quiet, serious, best friend. The house tidy and smelling of cooking and mother always home. The backyard a long slow slope covered in vinca vines sprinkled with purple flowers. The large bedroom on the second floor with two beds for sisters who read and play piano and study.
Slowly the group gathers at this house—white haired fairy-like girl, tough tom boy from two blocks away, smiling little sister of best friend, street-wise blond with the bad mouth and the parents divorced. An odd crew—best friends on street, strangers at school.
Alliances form. Negotiations begin. A decision made. Whatever the outcome—riding bikes to the creek, picnic under the trees at the college’s playing fields, roller skating in the freshly paved parking lot of the church, walking down the next hill into town to Ernie’s pharmacy for candy or escaping the heat or rain in the basement of the house playing school or acting out plays—we are all in. No complaining, no do-overs, no crybabies.
As the day draws to a close the group disperses and heads to their respective homes and dinner. The girl walks her bike up the hill with the white-haired girl whose house is in the middle of the incline. Bikes dropping on the sidewalk, the two run up the driveway to the back yard, through a hole in the fence, across the neighbor’s yard into the dainty garden next door.
Crouching, crawling across still hot paving stones to the mounds of variegated, scalloped leaves with fingers gingerly reaching trying to grasp the small, sweet, dark red strawberries. Popping as many in their mouths as possible, they stuff pockets while always looking and watching for the old woman. One day, a few summers later, the girls were caught but the old woman invited them to take as many strawberries as they wanted. That was last summer of sneaking the berries. Now mouths and pockets full, the girls race back across the neighbor’s lawn with hearts pounding, down the driveway back to their tangle of bikes.
Waving goodbye to the friend, the girl pushes her bike up the steep hill past the house where she picked out her kitten-now-cat—a bribe from her parents to go to first grade without a fuss. To her right the narrow island of grass and trees calls to her to step inside its secrets. The woods with so many lost balls and the old woman who kept them.
The gray clapboard house peeks over the hill and the girl picks up speed ready for dinner and questions about the day. The father stands in the garden—a small plot of land carved from the lawn—amidst the asparagus going to seed and squash and tomatoes. The girl joins him half-listening to the lessons of gardening and mulching, skimming her hands over the tops of the riotous zinnias.
Armed with their bounty, the girl and her father enter the kitchen to smells of chicken and rice and butter beans cooking. With the tomatoes sliced and the table set, the girl, her parents and brother settle in for the meal and talk. Later, plates cleared, the girl and her father load the dishwasher. Again the lessons half-heard on the proper way to rinse and load.
After the bath, the girl pulls a clean cotton gown over her head. Hair still wet and feet clean and prunish, the girl follows the voices of her parents out into the side yard. Fireflies flicker across the grass. Chasing a few, the girl finds herself at the hammock—the one purchased two summers ago on the island in South Carolina white ropes crisscrossing. Climbing in she pushes off from the ground gliding slowly back and forth, back and forth. Arms supporting her head, the girl looks into the dark sky that peeks between the two huge oak trees counting the stars. A breeze rustles the cotton gown body underneath all clean and scrubbed. Parents’ voices trail off, the girl closes her eyes.
Photographs by Amy Watson Smith, 2013 and 2014
This was originally posted in May 2013 as Summer 1974-Parkville.
This is how I start my week.
I know that I am fortunate to be able to start the week this way. I am blessed to be able to spend this season of my life only working out of my home part-time. I am lucky to have the opportunity to explore my passion for writing and photography and to have time being creative.
So I sit on the sofa in the den in my pajamas with my three dogs barking and running in circles (or sometimes chewing their bones), the cat is perched on the pillow by my side and I try to plan my day, my week, my year.
I update calendars, make appointments, brainstorm blog post ideas, plan the editorial calendar for my blog, shoot a few photos, begin a draft post or two and try to finish at least one that I can publish this week. I research ideas, read new posts from my favorite bloggers and comment when appropriate. I look through emails, check Instagram, Facebook and Twitter posts and try to respond in turn. Finally I check my site statistics to see whether anyone has even read my latest post.
Seems like a lot of work . . . but for what purpose? Sometimes I wonder about this. And I know that my husband certainly does.
But I love what I am doing–writing, taking photos, blogging about my journey, . . . this gives me joy, makes my heart sing, stirs my creative juices and, ultimately, makes me a happier mama and wife. My two days of doing what I love energizes and enthuses me for the rest of the week.
I am thankful to the Lord and to my husband and daughter for allowing me the time to see where this “work” will take me.
This is how I start my week. With dreams and plans and ideas and pajamas.
How do you start your week? Are you a planner or a dreamer? Do you carefully set priorities or do you just jump into the week and see where it will take you?
As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I would share with you several of my most popular posts and my favorite images. Thank you for reading!
These are some of my favorite images from the blog from 2013 in slideshow format.
Happy New Year!
Autumn in coastal South Carolina is subtle. We don’t get much of the showy reds and oranges and yellows that one thinks of in the fall. We mainly have evergreen trees and plants in the lowcountry: live oaks, pines, palmettos, wax myrtles, loquat and holly. And the dramatic temperature changes can be a bit tricky: hot and humid one day, cool and crisp the next.
When I first moved to Charleston almost 20 years ago from the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, I would have said that Charleston didn’t have an autumn. I desperately missed the traditional fall foliage (though not the cold and snowy winters).
But I wasn’t seeing what was right before my eyes as I drove across the many bridges spanning the region’s salt marshes. I was overlooking the obvious: the subtle changes in color of the Spartina marsh grass from springtime chartreuse to the brown and amber of the fall. Even though I hadn’t noticed the beauty of this season, change was taking place all around me.
I began to wonder what other changes I had not noticed because of subtlety and my inattention.
Learning to open my eyes and mind to change.
I am not particularly comfortable with change–particularly change that surprises me. I suppose that I should not be surprised when things in life do not go according to my plans. Change is happening continually.
But when I am feeling secure in a particular season of life, I somehow I convince myself that everything will stay as it is: children won’t get older, parents won’t get ill, jobs won’t end, . . . . This isn’t a very useful or realistic attitude to take. Looking at the list I realize that it’s a pretty negative view of things. I need to change my perspective and come to terms with the notion that change is a given. But not all change is a bad thing.
Learning to pay attention to the details.
Once I have learned to open my eyes to change, I can begin to see the small, incremental alterations that often lead to the big changes in life.
When my daughter was eight-and-a-half months old, she took her first steps. I was surprised because she did not go through the regular developmental progression of crawling before walking. She went directly from sitting to walking–or at least that is how it seemed. But there were indications that change was happening all along as she pulled herself up to a standing position and began cruising the furniture (at 8 months-yikes!). I must have realized this on a subconscious level because my husband and I knew it was time to move from our tiny downtown Charleston 19th century kitchen house to something with a bit more floor space.
For me documenting the details around me is how I am learning to pay attention. Writing about my life and photographing the world around me helps me to notice the details and the small changes taking place around me.
Learning to see the bigger picture.
Sometimes, though, I can get so caught up in the details that I forget to take a long view of things. It’s a case of the proverbial “not seeing the forest for the trees.” This happens to me creatively quite often when I get so caught up in the minutia of a project I am working on that I forget to step back to see where this particular element fits into the whole.
I am learning to see the bigger picture of particular seasons of my life by looking back and by looking ahead. I try to place this season on the time line of my life (yes, a literal time line) and am able to see that what seems like an interminable period may in reality be only a blip.
I am learning to see connections of a particular season of my life to a past event or time as well as trying to anticipate consequences in the future. I am looking for God’s hand in my life to see what he may doing to shape and form me. I am trying to learn from the difficult times and the easy times.
Learning to embrace the season I am in.
This may be the toughest part of it all. Complaining comes far too easily to me.
I used to tell the girls in my Girl Scout troop, “You get what you get, so don’t throw a fit.” I need to remind myself of this when I lash out and cry to God, “This isn’t fair!”
I’m not suggesting that we don’t have any control over things in our lives so just sit back and take it. Not at all. I am saying that sometimes we find ourselves in a place that is hard or painful perhaps because of something we have done or someone or something else has caused the situation. It may not be fair. It may not be fun. It may be very, very hard.
Now what if I open my eyes and heart to gratitude? What is it in this situation that I can be thankful for? Where can I see the goodness of God? What can I learn? How can I thank Him in this hard season?
The only way I know to do this difficult step is capture it–embrace it–document it.
Do you have a way of embracing the season you are in? How do you respond to change?