What a Gift

Look, I’m just trying to cope with life, like everybody else. In general, we think too much, worry too much, fret over situations that never materialize. Gawd, the time we waste on bad and improbable outcomes.

That’s just the way we’re wired, I suppose.

All good. Summer is my favorite vice, my wolf whistle, my launch point. On July Fourth, I just want to lie naked in a stream and read comic books.

Summer inspires me the way Rosseau inspired the French Revolution. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. To that, I would add frugality. Miles Davis. Landon Pigg (look him up). And gin … sweet, remarkable, juniper juice. Like a nectar, that stuff.

My pal Spiro brought me a super-floral Dutch gin the other day, and Lucy brought me fresh cucumbers, and I think back to summer as the time friends share the bounty of the land.

My parents did that. They grew so many tomatoes that it sucked some of the life right out of the Earth. Then they fed it to their children. Talk about social contracts. Talk about giving us everything we needed. Sweet nectars, straight from the vine.

On soft Midwestern nights, the locusts would hum a little Brahms. Dad would burn ribs and Mom would make sweet corn, served with those tacky plastic skewers, presumably so you wouldn’t mess your fingers. What a feast that was.

Like most men, my father had no feeling in his face, so that when he ate smeary barbecued ribs and buttery corn, he’d appear to have applied it externally, as you would an aftershave.

From that point on, I understood all I needed to know about summer. On summer nights, all dads feel like Henry VIII. They wear summer like a robe.

When we buried Dad, I swear there was just a smidgen of barbecue sauce on his cheek. Like pine tar, it never quite came off.

Wish Dad could see this Catty Cakes, who would be his great granddaughter, who would be the star burst in his eyes.

Cakes would own him. Same chubby cheeks. Same way of reading a room. Lots of pink in their smiles, a good half-acre of County Cork.

She even dresses like him, in pastels and Bermuda plaids. She wobbles like him too, like someone in search of a torch for their cigar. And she smiles 80% of the time. I’ve only known two people who smile 80% of the time: Catty Cakes and my father.

Now, on her mama’s smiley birthday, Cakes is gnawing on grilled sweet corn, gripping it like a baseball, immersing herself in summer, wearing it like a robe.

Cakes never met her long-gone soulmate. But he lingers for sure. Like newspapers. Like baseball.

And when she took her first few steps the other day, in the same duckfooted sway as her beautiful mother, you could feel my father in the sunshine, you could smell the Kingsford charcoal and his Sea & Ski.

There is something mythic about first grandchildren. There is something mythic about good dads.

On summer nights, when the grill is going, and someone spffffs open a cold beer, when someone lights a sparkler, paints their name in neon, and you smell the burning sulfur, you can smell the past.

It all makes you wonder:

Are most memories made in summer? Aren’t summers a type of art work? A novel? A garden?

Light a sparkler. Wear your corn.

Happy Fourth of July to everyone. Stay classy. Be safe. For a good summer read, or past columns, please go to ChrisErskineLA.com. And don’t forget about the Happy Hour Hike on July 10. Cheers and thanks!

15 thoughts on “What a Gift

  1. Love this tribute to summer, fathers everywhere, your special dad and your perfect first grandchild. You have such a unique and magical way of weaving the nostalgia of our wonderful past rituals with those of today. Happy Fourth. Thanks for reminding us of all the little magical things that make families, this country and this season special.

  2. Chris, You paint the best word pictures. I love summer too. Except for the days when it’s over 100*, which is more often than ever before. Especially since we moved to Sacramento 3 years ago! I plan to write my name with a sparkler on Monday, and I’ll be thinking of you.

  3. Great Chris. Thanks for the Landon Pigg referral – I enjoyed his song. I’ll still take Miles first though.

  4. Morning happy tears. Never have I ever seen the opening of a cold beer described so perfectly. Writing your name with a sparkler went right to my heart.
    Thank you for all you do, you tap into our happy place.

  5. Aw man, you’re not supposed to get me soggy first thing in the morning! Summer memories of growing up in Chicago, Wow! Only thing you missed was my grandmother smashing fresh strawberries into sour cream and adding a small ton of sugar. Today I think they call that yogurt. We just called it Summer. Thanks, Chris! Enjoy.

  6. Love this, Chris! Thinking about your writing and suggesting you consider submitting to “Crow’s Feet–Life as we age” on Medium.com. They would love your writing (as do I!) and it would introduce you to a whole new crop of readers who will soon become fans!

  7. Summer is a dream, a myth of life we live. I resonate in it as you do, and the poetry pours like watermelon juice out of my mind, or sometimes it wakes me up—like the spicy sludge of barbecue sauce waking up dull ribs on one of those long heat-stunned summer nights when ease is in the stillness like smoke—with the substance of its heat writing itself into the blaze of the mornings like the vaporizing marine air. Hyperbola aside, I love this ravishing time of year, and give myself fully to it with the rituals that enshrine its joys. The word lovely does not begin to touch it.

  8. Funny how when we see grandchildren we immediately think of our parents. I so wish that my father and mother could see my brothers beautiful granddaughters. I wonder if our grand parents thought the same thing? I agree with you that memories are from summer, as life begins again in the hot sun

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