Monday, June 6, 2011

Hot Fun in the Summertime

“End of the spring and here she comes back. Hi, hi, hi, hi there!
Them summer days, those summer days…
That's when I had most of my fun, back, high high, high, high there
Them summer days, those summer days…”

I'm glad blogs come with a “play” button, that way you can listen to the rest of “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone while you read this, and really get a feel for what I’m going to say in a way that the printed word alone can not convey. There is just something about summer…and no matter how I try, I know can’t quite explain what it is.  Maybe it’s the warm weather, or the long days, or the excitement of a sudden thunderstorm.  Or else it’s the smell of toasted marshmallows, or the feel of sand or grass between your toes, or the sound of a lawnmower. But whatever it is, it can be found in that song – and while you press “play” I’ll hit “rewind” and bring you back to them summer days, those summer days…

For me, summer will always be what it used to be: a kid’s paradise.  Long empty days waiting to be filled with imagination and ice cream.  Days spent stealing the wheels off my father’s lawnmower to build a go-cart.  Nights spent playing Kick the Can and catching fireflies in a jar. And hours (and dollars) spent chasing after the ice cream man. Now that I’m older, most of my summer is spent using the lawnmower for its intended purpose, the only cans I kick are the empties that fall out of the recycling bin, and my son is the one chasing those fireflies. But I’m still the first one out to meet the ice cream man! I guess summer-things never change.

And summers really are a time for change.  As kids we’d leave school in June and return in September entirely different people.  Somehow during those few months we became taller, wiser, more experienced. During the rest of the year, changes were gradual and harder to detect, but come summer, things would just pop! like buds on a tree.  And like the rings of a tree, each summer surrounded us, showing others how we had grown. And at the center of each ring was probably a picnic.

Picnics are summer’s equivalent of the growth chart. Each one brought new experiences and opportunities that let us know we were growing up. Our first few years were spent splashing around in the kiddie pool, surrounded by the old folks dipping their toes, while our swim-soaked diapers sagged down past our knees until someone finally decided to just take it off, leaving us giddily naked.  The next couple summers were spent whining and crying about how the big kids wouldn’t let us play with them…until, finally, we were the big kids, putting on skits and shows for the adults, while dutifully ignoring the little kids who wanted to play with us.  Several summers later, and we were behind the shed sharing sips off a stolen Schlitz or Schaefer (some uncle or other could always be counted on to show up with a six-pack of something cheap that no one would ever miss.) A year or two after that, and it’s back to being naked in the pool again, only now it’s called skinny-dipping.  The next picnic, we’re handed a beer, and we coolly try to play it off as no big deal, but it is, it is.  And the adults who used to shoo us away from the horseshoe pits so we wouldn’t get hurt are now picking us to be their partners.  A few more summers, and we began picking our partners, and bringing them to meet the family. And now people are coming to our picnics, and our parents are the old folks with their feet in the pool, stripping the soggy diapers off our kids.  And many picnics down the road, we’ll be there too, toes in the water, enjoying and remembering those summer days.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Those summer days are stretched out before us once again, and while it’s too late for Memorial Day, here are a few tips for throwing the perfect picnic.

First of all, invite everybody! And encourage them to bring stuff: friends, food, folding chairs.  For your part, all you really need are a couple pasta/potato salads and the requisite hamburgers and hotdogs.  And lots of beer of course. Don’t bother splurging on steaks or seafood, for if all your guests can rave about is the food, then they are not having a good time. Picnics are about simplicity, so basic burgers and dogs are fine, so long as the hot dogs are Hummel’s, in their natural casings – accept no substitutes!

As far as beverages, it’s best to just stick to beer and wine.  Blender drinks are fun, but a lot of work, and mixed drinks tend to get people “mixed up” way too quickly.  Since beer and wine are more filling, it’s easier for your guests to pace themselves.  And if you’re worried about underage kids drinking, get a keg instead of cans or bottles, as it is much harder to sneak beers off a keg unnoticed than it is to run off with a couple cans. (Sorry kids, but I’m playing for the other team now!)

And speaking of playing, you will need some activities.  The women can take care of themselves (and the kids) but the men need something to do, and that means horseshoes and bocce.  Horseshoes and bocce make great picnic “sports” for many reasons, with the number one reason being you can play them one handed, so you’ll always have a free hand for your beer.  Also, since the object of both games is to just “come close” almost anyone, at any age, can play…and succeed, so Grandpa can still put a beating on his grandson.  Plus, the games are slow paced, almost sedentary, giving the guys a chance to bond and talk – and yes, guys do talk. Sure most of it involves boasting and taunting, but every so often someone will share a story or memory about the family that a newer member of the group will be hearing for the first time, and years later they will share it with the next generation.  And that’s how you truly “come close” in horseshoes.

So pick a date, pick up the phone, and plan a picnic. Make it a yearly event, that way you’ll have something to talk about years from now when you’re dipping your feet in the kiddie pool, reminiscing about all your hot fun in the summertime.

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