In the early days of fatherhood, I began the school year with a five-minute drive to the carpool line down the street. Now, the trip takes three hours. My teenage son attends a boarding school for gifted kids nearly 300 miles from us. The long drive back each August gives me a lot of time to think about where the vacation season’s gone. If a teacher assigned me to write one of those dreaded what-I-did-this-summer essays, I’d mention that I tried to do this summer those things undone a year ago.
The summer of 2016, a time of flood and other tragedies in Louisiana, disrupted the season’s routines — even for those of us, like my family, who were lucky enough to stay dry. Housekeeping suffered, and this summer has been a time of catching up.
In the 1940s, my grandmother was summoned to school to discuss her son, Buddy, who wasn’t pa…
We’ve hacked at vines, power-washed the patio and deck, trimmed the arbor so that it no longer resembles Rasputin in need of a comb. My wife put up curtains. There was painting, too, as I’m reminded when I pull out the driveway, passing a splotch on the pavement that looks like winter’s first frost. That’s where my college daughter, who’s no better at using a drop-cloth than her dad, sprayed her bedroom vanity with a fresh coat of white.
I also see that despite all the pruning, a tallow tree limb is inching toward the roof again, as if some sinister presence is testing the house for ripeness before making a meal of it. In Louisiana, summer seems always on the verge of swallowing you whole, the almost violent vitality of the landscape something a soul can easily get lost in.
Anyone with a yard here comes to understand that his work is never finished. With middle age, too, comes a sense of limits. We never do as much in summer as we think we will.
The brick border around the front flowerbed is only half-done, like a conversation stopped in midsentence.
Plastic pipes and tanks for my son’s aquaponic garden lie scattered around the backyard, a dream for which some assembly is still required. And in the high heat of summer, I never summoned the interest or endurance to clean out the garage.
Summer reading leaves its loose ends, too. Author Bill Bryson has confessed to starting “Anna Karenina” many summers in a row, advancing only a few pages each year. I’ve done the same with a much smaller book, Beryl Markham’s aviation memoir, “West with the Night.” My inability to finish it says less about the book than about my weakness for distraction.
Rain, a fixture of summer in south Louisiana, tends to dampen ambition as well. On the drive back from my son’s school, low clouds and drizzle made the horizon look like November. The sky pointed me toward Thanksgiving, which will be here before we know it.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.