Saturday, June 11, 2011

You Know It's Summer When . . .

DEBS: Sitting on my deck last weekend, I heard the first cicada of the season. A sure sign of summer here in Texas. (We've had hummingbirds and fireflies since early April.) That started me thinking about all the sensory triggers that we associate with the changing of seasons, things that for most of us go back to our childhood.

The drone of cicadas. The tinny melody of the ice cream truck (Creepy. Gave me nightmares.) The prickly feel of junebugs when you catch them in your hands. Crape myrtles in bloom. Tomatoes and corn and cantalope on the fruit and vegetable stands.

And the smells! Meat cooking on grills. Chlorine from swimming pools. Coppertone or Sea-and-Ski suntan lotion (unmistakeably different,) the damp scent of sprinklers running in the evening . . .

But for me, I realized that the one thing that shouts SUMMER IS HERE is the smell of a burning mosquito coil.

My dad was a manufacturer's rep for theater concessions, and along with popcorn, popcorn boxes, and drink cups, he sold PIC mosquito coils to drive-in theater chains. We always had the little dark green coils on their metal stands burning on our patio in the evenings.

These days, they are made by OFF and come with nice little clay pots that keep you from stepping on them and burning your feet. Nice improvements, but they still smell exactly the same, and I love it. (They do actually repel mosquitoes, by the way.)

So, Jungle Reds and dear readers, for our Saturday list:

What's the thing that lets you know "it's summer when . . ."

JAN: When I have to add a hat, wristband, sunglasses, and towel to my tennis bag.

RHYS: Back in England it was the smell of new mown grass and the thwack of a cricket ball. Here in California it's the reappearance of the fog creeping over the hills from the ocean. I wish we had warm lazy evenings, but we don't. But the sound of happy kids coming up from the swimming pool at the bottom of my hill is a sure sign summer is here.

HANK: Oh, Coppertone, of course! And Bain de Soleil, the gooey orange stuff. And even the fragrance of baby oil, back in the day. Where we live now, the ice cream guy--his chimes playing ONLY and INCESSANTLY The Entertainer--arrives precisely at 5pm, which is a silly time for a popsicle. But it's so nice to be sitting in the back yard by the pool, and hear that tune. It's completely summer. Jonathan and I get blow-up rafts, and float around on the pool with books and iced tea. Now THAT is summer, and you are all invited.

The peonies arrive! Tomatoes and Basil! And we change to gin and tonics. (Diet tonic water, highly recommended.) And flip flops! (Of which I have too many--cf yesterday's guilty pleasures.)

DEBS: OMG! Can you believe we actually put baby oil on our skin???? And now we live in 50 sunscreen. The days of innocence. . . .

: Mmm, yes, new mown grass. Catapults me straight back to my early teens. The smell of river water and pine tar when we swim in the Saco. The sound of thunder and rain pounding on the roof (why is it a sodden downpour in November sounds entirely different from a drenching in June?) Lately, with our own and our friends' children graduating, the sentimental strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." Then, of course, the sound of parents discretely weeping into tissues and handkerchiefs!

The most significant summer smell for me is the delicious aroma of hamburgers on the bbq. Ross grills several times a week in the summer, on a rickety old thing that's held together with duct tape and prayers. I don't particularly care for hamburgers from restaurants or fast-food joints, but I'd eat Ross's hot-off-the-charcoal burgers every dinner between Memorial Day and Labor Day, if I could.

ROBERTA: Oh that reminds me, Julia, corn on the cob. And tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, not mealy paste. And Tonka gets so hot we have to take him in for a haircut.

HANK: Debs, are you sure those green coils aren't toxic? We use them all the time, but I always wonder.

HALLIE: Soft shell crab (just cooked it this week). YES, tomatoes that smell spicy sweet and leave that smell on your hands. Fresh herbs--I'm growing sage, chive, basil, and oregano. Apricots and cherries and peaches and plums. And melons that smell sickly sweet. And, to repeat, freshly cut grass. And the smell of my little compost heap, starting to heat up. And the skunk sauntering through our backyard at dusk.

: Rhys, I'm convinced that new-mown grass smells different in England than in Texas. Here it just makes us sneeze . . .

Hank, I think it's a law that all ice cream trucks MUST play The Entertainer:-) And we may all take you up on the G&Ts and floating in the pool. With books. And Ross's burgers. And tomatoes with fresh basil and mozzarella.

How much better can it get?


  1. Traffic gets twice as thick here, and the people inside the cars with umbrellas and surf riders all smell of cologne. The Bennys are Back.

  2. I know it's summer when the ocean calls to me. Then, I pack my beach bag with books, sun screen, camera, towel, wallet, phone, and sundaries and walk over the dune to the beach. On the return trip, my beach bag is twice as heavy because it is filled with shells.

    During the winter, when I miss summer, I go to the closet where I keep my beach bag and breathe deeply. Some mixture of all those items in my bag keeps summer alive all year round.

  3. You know it's summer when the New England farmers markets finally open--this week, locally. Hey, things grow slowly around here, but it's worth the waite.

  4. Coppertone definitely!
    I like EB's idea of having a summer bag in the closet.

  5. How could I forget: BIRDS! Hummingbirds. Robins return in huge numbers. Catbirds. And sparrows nesting over my back door. NOT FUN. Where can you get a rubber snake?

    Butterflies and bees. And mosquitoes. Not yet, but soon on the latter.

    Definitely: Summer in a bag (it's a good title)

  6. We have "summer in the back of the wagon" at our house. From June through September, our station wagon is always packed with folding camp chairs, sun screen and bug dope, hats and a few sweaters or hoodies (because in Maine, a warm day can turn cold in a few minutes!)

    There's usually also a soccer ball/baseball and gloves/crochet set in there as well. (And a book for Mom, who is cheering from the sidelines.)

  7. And here, of course, we have the green pool:-)

  8. Yes, Debs, everyone to our house!
    (Hope it doesn't turn out like the girl in Hamburg who Facebooked her birthday party..)

    Shells. Let's talk about sell collecting. They re irresistible to me..but then, what do you do with all those shells? Finally, I decided I would let myself take ONE.

  9. What a lovely topic!

    Oh, Hank, ‘Bain de Soleil, the gooey orange stuff.’ Wow did that bring back memories of the beach.

    I know it’s summer when the herb pots grow big enough to cut herbs for meals: basil, tarragon, chives, parsley, sage, thyme, oregano and mint. Freshly made gazpacho using good old Jersey tomatoes. When the sandals and shorts come out of the closet and the jackets go away.

    I love the idea of the summer bag in the closet. I will start a tradition this year by taking only one bag to the dock all summer.

    Bees at the dock are really a problem this year. I must remember not to wear bright colors. I wouldn’t want them to mistake me for flowers.

  10. Yes, Roberta! Tomatoes, delicious tomatoes.

  11. Bain de Soleil and it had to be the orange stuff not the white. Comparing tan lines. In Brooklyn we took the bus to the beaches and there were the cool beaches and the less cool ones. Old guys used to walk around the beach with paper shopping bags filled with knishes -probably a zillion calories,the bags were always stained with grease - but they were great!