Readers! Here’s a seasonal essay by Corbyn Hightower, a writer and mom of three in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA. She has six chickens and a “disobedient husband.” More of her work can be found at www.corbynhightower.com. — L.
SIMPLY SUMMER by Corbyn Hightower
My oldest child—a preteen—is having a friend spend the night. I’m surprised how self-conscious I am on my daughter’s behalf. We haven’t many guests since the recession demanded that we downsize our life, at which point we sold our only car, axed the cable and Internet, and moved into a shabby old house by the rail yard.
It’s really hot inside, and there’s no air conditioning. Some doors don’t have knobs. Our chickens have rendered the back yard unusable, and our driveway has been taken over by raised garden beds. What we lack in decorum we make up for in freedom from too many Rules About Things.
The guest says, “Your house is colorful.” I look at this crumbling place and I see the salvation of its underpriced square-footage and prolific fruit trees. This has been safe harbor, even with the nearby train tracks. I bite back apologetic explanations for the bicycles in the dining room and the cords from all the whirring fans that kept us from wilting in this destructive heat. We harvested pounds of squash from our garden, and that’s going to comprise the bulk of our dinner. My husband steams it, seasons it lightly, and serves it with a pot of brown rice. Our young houseguest eats heartily.
The next day it’s just so hot, and our little neighborhood creek bubbles below the foot bridge with promise of relief. I send the older girls out, where they will break small green branches from the fennel plants that grow in great fluffy drifts on the shore. They will have to climb through the remains of a concrete ditch, make way under a bridge festooned with lovers’ graffiti, and wade through the murky water to get to the small, hidden beach made of smooth stones and small shells.
They return muddy, sun-pinked, and happy. They’ve collected fistfuls of fennel along with small glittering rocks and treasures. Our new friend has gotten splinter on her foot. I make up a warm footbath with crushed lavender, and my son tells her that it will help with the splinter, and with her emotions, too. “It’ll make you feel okay until it gets better. It will give you a peaceful feeling.” I smooth her hair down and kiss the top of her head, our initiate. She holds her foot up to me to investigate.
Later, I send my five-year-old out to water the garden. The tomato plants have blooms, and the other plants are straining upward, not full-grown but strong, with their broad leaves facing toward the sun. Yesterday we feasted on the first truly awesome strawberries of the season. The sparkling flavor and seeds made them taste almost carbonated.
My children will have a summer of these simple memories, ones in which I participate, and others where my only job is to remove the splinters and wash off the mud upon their return.