The Secrets of Summer

The Secrets of  Summer
by  Harold Graham

basketAs any school marm or her students will tell you, summer begins when school is out and ends when school is in. Never mind what the calendar says  to the contrary.

Fifty years ago  summer began the day that a slightly-built Choctaw woman, Maggie  Solomon, appeared at our doorway, a syrup bucket brimming with  huckleberries in her hand. Her dark black hair, then streaked with  gray, was held in place by a series of combs. Maggie wore the  traditional dress worn by the women of her tribe and known as Chota hoyo ilifoka. The garment began at mid-neck line and  covered the rest of her body, with the exception of her hands and  bare feet. Intricate rick-rack, beads, and ruffles were sewn into  the fabric and an apron extended from her waist to the ruffles of  the hem-line. The dress had been made from brilliant red calico when  she was a bride, but was now faded from the sun of many summers.

Maggie offered the  huckleberries for trade. Following negotiations with my mother in apatois of English and Choctaw, Maggie left with a bucket of  lard which she would use to cook the days meal for her family. The  huckleberries disappeared into our kitchen where they would reappear  a few hours later in the form of a berry cobbler, the best that this  teen-age boy had ever tasted.

We did not ask  Maggie where she had picked the berries, and even if she had spoken  fluent English, she would not have told us. That was, after all, one  of her secrets of summer.

We all had our  secrets of summer in those days.

Along the dusty  road there were dewberries waiting to be picked. Most were simply  wiped clean and eaten on the spot. In a cutover there were  blackberries. Some made it to a cobbler, others didn’t, and in the  days before few commercial insect repellants were available we were  taught to saturate rags with kerosene and tie these around our  ankles and wrists to discourage the red bugs that infested the  vines, but which preferred human hosts.

At an old abandoned  house place there were wild plums growing both yellow and red, but  that plum orchard long ago gave way to a baseball diamond.

We shared that  baseball field or another field near by with a Choctaw team from the  community. It was a game played without uniforms, steroids,  out-of-control parents, or sore losers, but in jeans and tennis  shoes we felt like world champions. Our only fear was that Beamon Charlie, who swung a huge homemade bat with the power of Babe Ruth,  would lose our only good baseball in the pine thicket behind right  field.

At the first real  burst of warm weather the fish in the creek came out of hiding.  There were goggle eyes lurking beneath sunken logs and red bellies  to be found along the sandbars. Bream were scattered in the  shallows. The fish were hungry and anxious to be fed. Worms and  crickets were no problem, but the wasp larvae that the bream seemed  to prefer presented a special problem since Mama and Papa Wasp, who  had built a nest under the eaves of a shed, had no use for the  teenage boy who attempted to smoke them out and retaliated with  their own counter-offensive of sting and conquer. Duck!

The boys had their  private swimming parties in the creek or canal, clothing optional,  but on a weekend we often joined the girls at a neighbors pond for  a more civilized swim, clothing required.

A neighbor had  grown far more watermelons than he could ever use and the melons lay  baking in the blistering July sun. Late one night (or so I am told),  teenage boys, in a great act of mercy, relieved the farmer of any  surplus watermelons that he might have.

By mid-August the  muscadines had grown black on the vine that embraced a pine tree on  the hill behind our house. The fruit were so full of sweet nectar  that they often exploded upon contact with the ground. By night  raccoons and possums raided the vine; by day a teen-age boy took the  leftovers.

It was at this time that Maggie Solomon  reappeared, this time her arms akimbo with baskets that she  had made from canes that she had gathered along the creek bank. She  departed later five dollars and a dozen eggs richer and we were left  to admire our new treasure. Fifty years later we still wonder how  Maggie, whose education was considerably less sophisticated than our  own, could create such a work of art. How did she do it? Another  secret of summer.

I could carry you  back to all these places today. My feet certainly know the way. The  baseball diamond, however, has been converted into a trailer park,  the swimming hole is full of brush-tops, and the body of Maggie  Solomon, having seen ninety-one summers, was returned to the dust  from whence it came in 1974.

The teenage boy? He doesn’t live there  anymore.


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