When Summer Meant Heaven

No, really heaven.

Pure joy, fun, excitement, change, nearly endless.

Crowded beaches, perfect sea, ice cream cones every afternoon, and even your birthday being in August.

Being a child in the summer. The only way to truly enjoy it.

My mother frantically surveying every room in the house, to make sure nothing would be left behind.   After all, we were going to rent a tiny apartment in a family-friendly beach area, so lots of household items had to be packed. Cleaning, cooking and laundry needed to be taken care of.

Carefully folding my two new bathing suits, one red, one a lively print with yellow and orange flowers, I anticipated wearing the one-piece red for the water, then changing into the other one to dry.  Well, yes, after we kids were allowed to go swimming (in a manner of speaking, since only my brother could actually swim), at noon, when the sun was at the hottest, thus less chance of catching a chill, the moment we came out of the water, my mother would wrap us in a large towel, and we changed into a dry bathing suit, to minimize the possibility of contracting a cold. Then after we were thoroughly dried, we could have a snack on the beach, a small panino with salame or prosciutto, one of my favorites, and every bite tasted wonderful, salty, appetizing, the bread soft and wheaty.

Once home, my mother put on the water for the pasta, reheated the sauce she had made in the early morning (before packing the beach bag), breaded the veal cutlets she was going to fry in a little butter, one at a time, while we kids and babbo were eating the first course, tossed the fresh salad with olive oil and a touch of vinegar, and made sure she had remembered to put together the moka coffee maker before starting the meal process.

Playing quietly (babbo was taking his afternoon nap) on the floor in the hallway (the tiny apartment did not have a living room), my siblings and I would talk about the evening car trip to a nearby village where they made the BEST ice cream, and the little souvenir shops; I really wanted that red and gold link belt, my brother yearning for the Matchbox Ferrari. But I would end up with dainty embroidered handkerchiefs because my mother was practical.

The coffee aroma lingered in the kitchen, while my mother washed all the dishes by hand, after heating water in the pasta pot, because there was a limited supply of hot water in the tank, and it had to be saved for bathing.   She removed the chairs to the hallway (Spostatevi un po’, bambini… Move over kids), washed the kitchen floor, checked the fridge for food for dinner – around 8 or 9 pm), then sat in one of the chairs and leafed through a magazine. Ten minutes later, she went to see if the clothes hanging on the line on the balcony were dry (oh, she had washed the clothes in the bathtub, because there was no washing machine provided).

Sitting outside on the balcony, at night, eyes turned up to the black sky decorated by a myriad stars, we listened as my father pointed to the constellations, awed by his knowledge of the names of nearly every star. The glass doors were ajar so the nasty mosquitoes would not filter into the bedroom and feast on our tender skin all night.

My mother deep in thought (though her eyes rolled occasionally as my father elaborated on the wonders of the firmament), possibly compiling tomorrow’s shopping list, Wednesday, the butcher would have the country sausages…).

As I felt my eyes begin to close, I knew the our bed time was approaching, and my father would tell us the story he created every night for us, just a few minutes of a journey into the splendor of his imagination before we dozed off. And tomorrow maybe my mother would let me have that delicious ice-cold pineapple juice that was constantly turned and mixed up in that huge container at the local café, sweet and a deep yellow in a clear glass.

My wonder years.

I think I’ll have some icy pineapple juice right now.  But in a different glass.

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