Summer in a Bottle

by Cija Jefferson


 

I hold these moments in my heart as carefully as I would a firefly cupped in my hands. Summer captured in a bottle is a wondrous glow of pure magic.

Summer is Maryland humidity, thick heat, and swampland.

It is central air in the public library, and signing up for the Summer Reading program.

Summer is lying on a sheet in the back yard reading Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High.

Summer is wearing shoulder-tied primary-colored rompers, and glittery jellies steamy from sweaty toes.

Summer is roller-skating and dance routines with my little sister and cousins. Grandfather Jeff backs his midnight blue Cadillac out of the garage so we can practice the dance routine from Oaktown 357’s music video, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Summer is hotdogs and hamburgers cooked on the grill Grandfather Jeff made out of cinder blocks. He also makes a swing for us in the backyard tree using a tire and rope. For my little brothers he installs a basketball hoop next to a flat patch of hard dirt by the woods.

Summer is Mom’s homemade ice cream, vanilla for us kids and lemon for Dad. We take turns cranking the ice-cream maker, fascinated as a thin layer of frost forms on the metal cylinder inside the wooden bucket.

Summer is family. We roll deep. There are at least eight of us—between my siblings and cousins—old enough to play baseball, Red Rover, Red light/Green light, and Hide-n-Seek.

Summer is walks around the corner to my Mom’s parents’ house. Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop have cable, so when it’s too hot to play outside we go inside and watch movies. We love The Goonies, but Breakin’ is our favorite. As soon as credits roll, the boy next door rushes home to bust out his boom box. Mom-Mom finds us some cardboard, and we all head to the front yard to mimic Turbo and Ozone’s breakdancing routines.

Summer is Mom-Mom’s annual cookout, a mini-family reunion. There is badminton, a picnic table piled high with steamed crabs, Kool-Aid over cups of ice, potato salad, baked beans, barbecue chicken, sweet corn, and rocket pops. There are tons of kids. We run and rip around the yard. There are aunts, uncles, and older cousins drinking brown liquor and cold beer. There is cussing and card playing. There is music: Al Jarreau, Sade, and The Police. We get to stay up late. We end the day smelling like outside sticky with sweat and Popsicle juice. Once home we take our baths, and have the best sleep ever.

Summer is the Fourth of July in Havre de Grace, a small waterfront town where we have deep roots. The parade begins near Tydings Memorial Park, a place where family is etched in stone under “Colored Troops” on the World War I memorial. The carnival is in the park too. When night drapes the sky, lights from the Tilt-o-whirl and Ferris wheel reflect in the waters of the Susquehanna. Fireworks shimmer then crackle over the river, lighting our upturned faces.

***

Summer used to unfurl before me like a road stretching to the horizon, endless. Now I portion out vacation days like you would calories on Weight Watchers. I usually spend a week in L.A. with my college bestie Kim. We proceed to check off my to-do list: go to Leo Carrillo beach past Malibu, visit my other homegirl in Santa Barbara, and eat crepes at the Farmer’s Market while bitching about new versus old L.A. like one of the two old dudes from The Muppet Show, “Kim, remember when The Grove wasn’t a thing and it was just the Farmer’s Market?”

Outside of that one week I’m primarily in Baltimore. I work year-round so I get my summer jollies where I can. There are prosecco-filled Happy Hours; Reggae Fest at Linganore Winery; Artscape; soft-serve vanilla ice cream; hamburgers from Artic Circle; weekend trips to Brooklyn to visit my big brother; occasional cookouts with Mom, my younger siblings, and two nieces; and lounging by the community pool as much as possible.

These days summer streaks by like a lit bottle rocket, flaring for one brilliant moment before dissipating in a shower of sparks.

 

 


Cija (pronounced Kia) Jefferson is the author of Sonic Memories, and host of Writers & Words, a Baltimore reading series. Her work has been featured in multiple publications including Baltimore Style, Yellow Arrow Journal, The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet, and HelloGiggles. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from University of Baltimore, and B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a pop-culture junkie who–when not watching copious amounts of Bravo and HBO–is reading and of course, writing. IG & Twitter: @cijasquips Website: cijasquips.com.