By Joe Rector
The assignment was to read poems and prose about Knoxville and summer. Before long, I realized that neither piece of literature would impress my two students for one’s family roots were buried in Florida and the other’s ran deep in the soil of New York. The importance of words were lost on them. Still, I was hell bent on their reading and understanding just a bit better this season that is fast approaching.
I don’t often preach to parents because the good lord knows how often I goofed with my own children. However, I implore folks to introduce their little ones to the poem “Knoxville” by Nikki Giovanni and the introduction of James Agee’s “A Death in the Family.” They paint beautiful pictures of summer in our hometown and, at the same time, usher in so many memories of summers from the past.
This wonderful place gives us a summer that exudes contentment. Much of that peace of mind is spiked by the smells that accompany warm weather. Honeysuckle blooms decorate barbed wire fences and post. The sweet perfume fills the air and causes us to close our eyes, breathe in the fragrance, and allow a smile to spread across our lips and light up our faces and souls. The scent of freshly cut hay from fields far from our homes ride the breezes to reach us. Even the recognizable smell of mowed wild onions spread throughout the neighborhood. They grow in yards, not lawns, for the latter have been fertilized and sprayed to feed grass and kill all other forms of wild green plants.
The light of day is a plentiful commodity in the summer. Daylight sidles up before 6:00 a.m. It lingers with us well into the evening, and at some points, holds on with the last rays until nearly 10 p.m. Our lives seem fuller since those extra hours of daylight are crammed full of a variety of activities such as playing sports, enjoying water activities, or simply mowing the yard. The night delivers the best hours of sleep to weary souls that made the most of each moment of the day.
For us with graying hair, the hot days and warm nights of the season were much different in the previous century. We lay in our beds at night and prayed for the slightest breezes to blow through every opened window in the house and offer just a bit of coolness. A monstrous floor fan sat in the hallway, and it sounded much like the propeller of a piper cub on a flight to some far away destination. Even with so much power behind it, the fan merely circulated the air without ever cooling it by even one degree.
I’m afraid that some of today’s parents are neglecting their children as far as summer is concerned. They allow young’uns to sit in a air-conditioned houses instead of insisting that they go outside and learn what it feels like to sweat. Weed and feed products and killers keep children from inhaling those sweet scents that come in the summer. I’ve recently discovered that some poor youngsters have never experienced the first bite of homemade ice cream. How can they fully understand what a “brain freeze” is if such a wonderful treat has never passed their lips? It’s shameful!
Perhaps this piece is more of a hodge-podge of thoughts, but summer excites me so much that keeping them in a logical order is sometimes difficult. I loved my years as a teacher, but I suppose that part of the reason I chose such career is that it offered the chance to be off in the summer. I hope that this year all of us enjoy each and every minute of the season. The memories that we make will stay with us until our time on earth is finished. Get an early start on summer fun. It’s here!