If I was indoctrinated into anything during my years of public school, it was the right to a long summer vacation.
I remember the countdown to the last day each school year with the glorious anticipation of freedom to play all day, eat our meals at the picnic table and stay up too late whenever we wanted. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood, played endless croquet and badminton matches in our backyards, and ran through sprinklers.
We would lie on our backs on a blanket in the middle of the field to watch the twists and turns of acrobatic swallows against a backdrop of big puffy clouds, or sit in the cool shade under giant broadleaved trees to read books of our own choosing for hours on end.
We spent nearly a month of every childhood summer with our Estonian grandparents at their summer home on Point Roberts. It’s much smaller and far more remote, but not unlike the Key Peninsula. We walked miles of winding country roads and spent time nearly every day combing the beach, collecting small treasures, exploring tide pools. We always swam in a rising tide.
We harvested the early and wonderfully named “translucent” apples Estonians call “valged klaarid.” We picked black and red currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Grandma preserved every berry we didn’t eat. We dried flowers and mint leaves to make our own tea. We ate Estonian foods like home-baked dark rye bread, potatoes, cabbage, small meatballs, lamb, salmon, smoked smelt, pickled herring, and all the other little fish.
And of course, sült (a savory chicken aspic or gelatin), a traditional appetizer that sounds gross, but I swear tastes delicious with lots of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sandwiches were served open-faced and often included chopped hardboiled eggs or cucumber with dill, fresh or dried, sprinkled over just about everything. We ate dessert every night made from the fruits of our labor.
The month of June, on the cusp of summer, is often slow to start on the Key Peninsula, but summer arrives like a welcome homecoming.
This month, the “summer people” begin arriving on their annual pilgrimage to a family beach house or secluded cabin tucked among the evergreens overlooking Puget Sound, the Olympics or Mount Rainier. There’s something familial and joyful about running into people you share some common history and traditions with but only see over a couple of months each year.
Still, we connect. We walk. We talk. We garden. We reach for cool drinks and take the time to sit down. We take the kayaks out. We set up projectors and speakers outside, invite some friends, bring guitars and sing along to movies like “O, Brother Where Art Thou?” ”Oklahoma!” or “The Wizard of Oz.” We throw birthday parties for our dogs and invite all their canine friends. We have big community dances, colorful parades, and old-fashioned logging shows. We drum, sing and make music on Summer Solstice, and we dance until dawn.
No matter where people come from, we have an opportunity to become neighbors for a time. Nothing feels so good as being accepted just as we are, uniquely flawed, highly fallible human beings.
Living here year-round, it’s easy to lose sight of our idyllic surroundings and how fortunate we are to be here in this place and time. But maybe everyone feels that way about their hometown. It’s not perfect. There’s no shortage of bad actors too, and that’s putting it mildly.
We thrive on support and sharing. We need to capture all the light and warmth of summer to store up the energy that helps sustain us through winter. We do better together when we give and receive.
We face an uncertain future but still cling to the notion that things will always be the same. They won’t be. We are forever changing. To borrow an old phrase, “Hope is the last thing that dies.”
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS