Originally published in the July 2020 issue of My Hometown, a special supplement to The Daily Home. Click here for the magazine issue.
I remember the first time I tasted honeysuckle.
Looking at the golden flower in my palm, I carefully pinched its green base and slowly glided the white thread outward until I saw the clear drop of nectar at the end—the tiniest drop of sweetness that tasted like summer on my tongue.
I found the honeysuckle in the woods behind my house while walking the curving paths my father had carved into the soft earth.
So many summers spent in the dark green shade of these woods.
In the mornings, I’d follow my brother to the stream where we’d flip over the mossy rocks, searching for salamanders and crawdads. We never caught them, though. It was thrill enough to discover their hiding place and see them scurry away.
Our cousin would join us most days, and we’d craft makeshift sailboats to race in the ripples of the stream. I don’t think mine ever won, but I loved to watch our flimsy but hopeful paper regatta. When the heat and humidity overwhelmed us, we jumped in clothes and all, into the deepest part of the brook, shocked and delighted that water could be so cold when it was 95 degrees in the shade.
Some hazy afternoons, I would take a book and under the dappled light fly through the pages, imagining I was the main character, and the adventure was happening to me.
When I got older, my father, one Sunday summer afternoon, took me to the river, where he taught me how to paddle our old aluminum canoe. There was something freeing about navigating the waters and maneuvering wherever you wanted along the river’s path with just the slightest change of your paddle.
My grandfather taught me how to fish––to recognize the feel of something deep below the water’s surface nibbling on your line. To know when to yank and begin reeling in “the big one.” He, more than anyone I’ve ever known, taught me the value of patience. To enjoy the quiet stillness, the power of waiting, and the reward if you do.
On certain summer nights, after a day spent fishing on the lake, we’d light a bonfire. I still can’t resist the flames of a fire flickering softly in the quiet summer night. Marshmallow-roasting sticks primed and ready, we toasted the fluffy white puffs until they tasted like sugar struck by lightning. Afterward, we’d maybe sing a campfire song and gaze at the flames, or strike up a game of UNO, Crazy Eights, or Rummikub if my Granny was around.
If I dive a little deeper, I remember seashells. Kneeling in the sand, not worried about how I would get it off me, I collected seashells in a plastic ziplock bag. Some were gray, some were pink, and a lot were broken, but each one I carefully stowed away. Back home on my twin bed, I’d carefully spread them out to admire the pearly ridges wondering where they had traveled before washing ashore near my feet. I showed my collection to an uncle I barely knew, who treated each one like a rare treasure, reliving his summer memories through my child’s eye point of view.
Nowadays, I wish I saw more fireflies or “lightning bugs” as I prefer to call them. I look for them at dusk, but I rarely see their intermittent glowing. We used to catch them in mason jars with rough holes cut into the lids only to set them free again when we were ready to turn in for the night.
Looking back over my summer memories, I used to think about how boring my life was growing up in the hot glow of those Alabama summers. But time is our greatest teacher.
The memories of summer meld together until they, too, are like the drop of nectar from the honeysuckle. So much contained in seemingly so little.