When I was a child in Central Maine, summer meant rowing my inflatable dinghy around Silver Lake, eating macaroni salad with green olives on the screened-in porch, and reading for hours in the swing chair. The scent of hawkweed, daisies, and Timothy grass radiated from the side of the road as we walked up the hill to visit a summer friend.
More than anything else, summer meant strawberries, peas, and corn. For as long as the season held, we would trek the 15 miles to Pike’s PYO for quarts of strawberries, glowing like rubies, firm green peas, smooth on the tongue, and later in the summer, Silver Queen sweet corn.
We ate strawberries out of hand and in my mother’s pie, suspended in a strawberry jelly and topped with cold whipped cream. Peas were shelled by the bowlful but never cooked, only eaten straight away. Some were sweet and juicy, others slightly starchy, and we couldn’t get enough of them.
This summer, more than ever before, I’ve craved the tastes and scents of summer.
Corn was its own marvel. In late summer we’d tear into a paper bag of a dozen or more ears, shucking them into a big silver bowl on the porch and stuffing the husks and tassels back into the bag to be carried to the compost. Their scent was a living thing, sweet and vegetal at the same time. They would go straight into a tall pot of boiling water, just until my mother could smell them. Then we’d eat them in a hurry with butter and salt.
Summers then were innocent, more or less. I learned about homophobia from the controversy over the comic strip “For Better or Worse,” which in 1993 featured a character coming out as gay. I wrote a letter to then presidential candidate Bill Clinton because his opponent had said he would ban water guns, but not machine guns.
A friend asked me, while we were playing on the swing set in my back yard, why I wouldn’t become a Jew for Jesus, since otherwise I would go to hell. These things couldn’t overshadow the strawberry pie, or the tender ears of corn.
This summer, more than ever before, I’ve craved the tastes and scents of summer. When several trips to the store proved literally fruitless, a friend brought me three quarts of Beth’s strawberries from the mainland.
I designed a long, thin raised bed for the fenced-in garden for the express purpose of growing peas to climb the chicken wire. I picked and ate the first snap peas today. My own corn plants, so close to being “knee-high on the Fourth of July,” are a source of anticipatory sweetness. I need it.
This summer, underneath the abundant sunshine and the hummingbirds sipping from nepeta blossoms, something frightening lurks. Strawberries, peas, and corn repair nothing. But they will give me strength and solace to face the future.
Courtney Naliboff teaches, writes, and plays music on North Haven. She may be reached at Courtney.Naliboff@gmail.com.