Here’s a short poem I wrote about the shift of seasons, as we transition from late summer to fall.
Farewell Summer (Apologies to Bradbury)
The death of summer—
as the season wanes.
No more soft-serve
ice cream cones,
baseball games and
giving way to the
birth of autumn.
And you know
what comes next.
pulls Old Man Winter
down from the attic,
sharpens his dentures
and deprives him of food—
until she’s ready
to set him loose
on the world again.
The anticipation of spring is overwhelming here in upstate New York. March ushers in a sense of hope as winter relents and spring creeps toward us. We’re not there yet. We still have more cold gray days ahead, with temperatures barely climbing out of the thirties. More snow will fall and the wind will continue to chafe exposed earlobes, noses and cheeks.
But you can sense spring is almost here. We’ll be setting our clocks ahead this weekend as Daylight Saving Time resumes.
March brings with it Friday fish fry specials that are welcomed by Lenten observers, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the apogee of the college basketball season. After the conference tournaments wind down, fans will be dissecting the NCAA tourney pairings and filling out their brackets. The NHL season is moving along and the playoffs will be upon us soon.
This is my favorite time of year, because it’s a season of possibility, where the full glory of spring and summer lies ahead, just waiting to be plucked like a ripe peach. Now we can allow ourselves to imagine barbecues, pool parties, softball games, weekend getaways, outdoor concerts and fireworks on the Fourth of July.
I am reminded of The Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance (1959) where a business executive returns to his hometown and finds it unchanged. He is overcome by a feeling of nostalgia when he encounters his boyhood self during a summer marked by merry-go-rounds, cotton candy and band concerts, and he tries to instruct his younger self to savor his childhood while he still has the chance.
The man, Martin Sloan, says to the boy: “I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you.”
So in this northern corner of the world, as Mother Nature gets ready to release a measure of heat, we can prepare to store our boots, coats, gloves, hats, sweaters and scarves for another year. We can get to ready to strike the terms black ice, lake effect, wind chill and Nor’easter from our vocabulary, at least for another nine months. It’s about time to step outside, stretch our limbs and live again.
Baseball’s Opening Day and the Big Feast at Vinci’s House
Meanwhile, spring training continues in Florida and Arizona—another sign that winter will be ending soon—and the first pitch of Major League Baseball’s regular season is less than a month away.
Bill Vinci, my best friend from my hometown of Rome, N.Y., holds an annual party on the first full day of the MLB season. Regardless of the weather, regardless of where he happens to be employed at the time—and he’s rotated through several jobs over the past decade—he invites friends over to his house to watch the opening day games.
It’s an all-day party with a group of friends debating their fantasy teams. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to attend one of these parties because I’ve always had to work or I’ve lived elsewhere in the U.S.
But I find the concept appealing because of the allure of playing hooky from work to watch baseball; and it’s also entertaining to see the players shivering on the basepaths and in the dugouts and outfield grass during early April games in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Boston.
Vinci tells me the party consists of watching baseball from the first at-bat to the “final pitch on the West Coast.” And his celebration has real roots in the Rome area, stretching back to Vinci’s high school days, starting around 1985.
“I would skip school and have my friends come over and watch baseball and eat in my parents’ basement,” he says. He adds, “As the years go by the attendees have decreased due to work, kids, etc., but that hasn’t stopped me from putting on the greatest opening day party in Rome.”
And the action on the diamond is enhanced by the menu for the occasion; the spread of food includes “dogs, burgers, sausage, hot and sweet peppers and sausage bread, along with chips and dip.”
So that’s what I’ve been missing all these years.
But Vinci, who serves as director of marketing for the Utica Brewers baseball club of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League (PGCBL), says the “reason I host opening day is the love and passion of the game of baseball. It’s in my blood and to have friends and family enjoy it with me makes it all worth it.”
He adds, “as long as I’m on this earth, you can always count on one thing—opening day of baseball at Vinci’s house.”
I spent last week in Rome, New York, as I recovered from Gamma Knife radiation treatment intended to eradicate leftover pituitary tumor cells. And I was once again overcome by the spectacular beauty of summer in my hometown.
Now that we have skipped past the Fourth of July, summer is ripe, bursting open in color, sounds and scents, but soon it will wane. Soon autumn will overtake it.
But now near perfection reigns in central New York with warm days, flowers in full bloom, vegetable gardens producing their bounty and children riding bikes and playing outside. We need rain here so it’s not quite perfect.
As I went for an evening walk heading toward Vogel Park in Rome, sunlight filtered through the lush maple trees lining North George Street, casting a greenish-yellow glow. Along the way I dodged hissing sprinkler streams dancing over burnt lawns and spilling over on the sidewalk. I saw teenage boys playing Frisbee in a front yard. A basketball bounced on a driveway and screen doors smacked against doorjambs. The smells of freshly-cut lawns and grilling meat entered my nose.
I also heard the voices of summer as I walked past the houses.
“Let’s go Randall.”
“All right, I’m coming.”
“Come on Meg, time to eat.”
Summer is such an intense sensual experience words and images alone cannot do it justice. Ray Bradbury came as close as possible with his fictional Green Town.
I think these days of splendor in central New York are God’s way of making amends for all the lake-effect snow days of December, January, February and March when darkness comes at 4 p.m. and the cold air bites your face. But you can’t contain summer. You can’t bottle it up and preserve it like dandelion wine, store it in Mason jars and open it up on a February night when your bones ache and the snow melts inside your boots while you shovel the driveway.
Summer is also a nostalgic time, as we remember our youth spent at the playgrounds and baseball diamonds, doing cartwheels to show off for grandparents, running around the neighborhood with sparklers and chasing the ice cream truck down the street.
I also consider the math when looking at my life. How many more summers do I have left? And then I think only one, right now. That’s it.
While driving with my brother one afternoon last week I spotted a white banner stretching across Black River Boulevard. It announced the Drums Along the Mohawk drum and bugle corps competition would be coming on Aug. 2. “Oh no,” I said to my brother, “that means summer’s ending soon.”
The competition has always been one of the last big events of the summer in Rome, signaling cooler weather, moms checking off their school supply purchase lists and the Rome Free Academy football team practicing in two-a-day sessions. My stepfather also says Drums Along the Mohawk sometimes coincides with bats sneaking into the house and circling the kitchen or family room.
So before summer is gone again, make a point to leave the house, walk around the block and look at the stars, eat your share of ice cream cones, race to finish nine holes of golf in the gloaming, attend a minor league baseball game and go for a night drive in the country to hear the whoosh of the tires against the asphalt.
Summer is indeed fleeting, but we still have half a cup left to enjoy.