The first hot days of summer came early this year, a month before real summer, not as a tease but as a promise.
The long weekend last week felt like summer vacation — we went swimming in the lake, worked for hours in the gardens, took long walks and short bike rides, sat outside at night by the fire pot and forgot what day it was.
It wasn’t really summer vacation. The water was cold and so were the evenings, and we had to go back to work or school too soon.
But then we had summer-style thunderstorms, with hail and wind that blew the tent around the front yard and tossed the plant shelf when its plastic covering became a sail. No damage done, just the excitement of pulling instantly flooded tomato plants out of what had become a bag of water. And the feel of a summer evening.
The days are long now, and with the windows open the summer sounds float inside at night — the high-pitched squeal of the toads, the thumping drum of the leopard frog, the owls and woodcocks, the rumble of thunder.
Summer — even if it’s just the promise of summer — has its special traditions, and they begin on Memorial Day Weekend. Someone always faints in the cemetery, just before the laying of the wreaths, at the end of the town parade (this year it was the overheated bass drum player in the marching band). Someone always gets a sunburn (this year, the family boy) and someone brings us fresh-caught fish for dinner (this year, the family dad). We brought out the croquet set, even though the lawn has been mowed only by ox and is far to rough to play on. But the boy insisted it was the traditional time for croquet.
We walk the gardens every evening as if it were really summer and we were going to pick our dinner. Instead we talk about what will be, in the next weeks and months.
The kids draw and read in the secret garden, imagining how hidden they’ll be once the sunflowers grow up to wall it in. We hoe the potatoes and weed around the tiny cucumber plants, imagining jars of pickles and baskets overflowing with spuds. We watch for signs of sprouting beans and melon plants.
“I think this will be the best garden we’ve ever had,” my husband says, and I’m pretty sure he says that every year.
Not everything got planted last weekend, but everything should be by the end of this week. We’ve already had our traditional early-season equipment failure that had my husband moving implements from the preferred tractor to the back-up before turning in one of the distant gardens, losing time to the vagaries of 60-year-old machinery.
But not too much time. There was time enough to listen to the storytelling uncle down the road expound on the differences between people from Vermont and people from the Adirondacks.
“Vermonters will keep fixing up an old piece of equipment out of frugalness,” he said, as he looked over the very old piece of equipment my husband could not get to start. “But ’dackies are different. They’ll fix an old mower or tractor or vacuum cleaner with any spare part they can find, till it looks like Frankenstein, just because it belonged to their grandfather.”
The tractor that would not start came from no grandfather we knew. But the uncle was right: We often hold onto equipment for sentimental reasons. “It’s been a good machine, and served us well,” my husband will say. “It would be wrong to junk it.”
So we keep patching things together, a new alternator, a new battery, a new strap fashioned from an old piece of something or other.
But I think it’s more than sentiment — it’s the feeling that old things were made to last and should be kept going. Because whenever we’ve bought something new, it’s broken down within five years and been impossible to fix. And who wants to encourage the manufacture of more garbage? Besides, with the uncle, his brother and my husband, that 60-year-old tractor will be running again soon enough.
I like hand tools myself, hoes and garden forks, and we tend to hang onto them forever too, overhauling them when needed. We’ll buy old tools, or parts of tools, if they’re made of good sturdy metal, and fix them into tools we’ll never want to get rid of. Last week a garden fork and a manure scoop were fitted with new handles and are as good as new. At least by ’dacky standards.
They’ll be working along with us all summer long, and for many more summers until they become a part of our tradition.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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