Two or three weeks ago Vancouver was still in the midst of a “non-summer.” There had been very few warm and sunny days. Sasamat Lake was still cold. I felt uneasy, almost as though I was in mourning for everything that summer meant to me. This year it was passing me by.
On July 15 I went for a hard bike ride that took me 2K uphill to Mundy Park and my old Coquitlam neighbourhood. For the first time in years, I rode to Blue Mountain Park, a place I visited many times with my son Abebe when he was a toddler—over 20 years ago!
I also rode a few laps on the 400m gravel track across the street from Blue Mountain Park. When I lived up in Coquitlam, I often injected some speed into my bike rides with 20 or 30 laps on that track. I loved the view to the southeast of far-off Mt. Baker.
That ride gave me a good workout. It was also a bit of an adventure, especially when a storm seemed imminent just at the place where I was farthest from home. But the ride didn’t feel like a summer ride. It was a trip back in time, bringing back memories that left me aware of what I have lost.
That day I wrote in my journal:
Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for past summers.
This year summer is not right. I’m still wearing jeans and light jackets. I’ve hardly been swimming in the lake, and the icy water is not a relief. My hip is injured—I’m unable to run, so maybe I won’t get to do my Sasamat Lake mini-triathlon this year. Also, though I’m happy to have lots of editing work, it means my hours of idleness have to be carefully stolen.
Nostalgia is perfectly described by the adjective “bittersweet”—because you remember good things, but feel a stab of pain at the realization that they are irrevocably in the past.
For me, summer memories are the strongest. They exert a kind of magic that keeps a part of me unchanged through all the years of childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Oh, those sense-laden memories! Toronto… The all-over sheen of sweat after a few minutes of morning running, the softness of nighttime summer air, and in between the relentless heat, the welcome relief of the air-conditioned library or movie theatre, dozing during the torpid afternoons while cicadas droned… Vancouver…the shocking relief of plunging into cold lake water, watching splendid sunsets from my balcony as the cooling air soothed my nearly-naked body.
So many summer memories are about family. My happiest family memories are of summer vacations spent at a cottage we rented near Parry Sound. Then, a generation later, my sister-in-law Pam introduced all of us to her family’s rented cottages near Minden, and my brothers and I went there with our kids and spouses and Pam’s childhood friends’ families. These cottage experiences weren’t so very different from my childhood ones: the main activities always centred around the lake: swimming, canoeing, diving off the raft; windsurfing and sailing for the more sophisticated. But also: blueberry pancakes, morning coffee laced with Bailey’s (adult pleasures!), board games, cribbage, card games, barbecues, campfires, badminton. Bike rides and runs knowing the lake was waiting at the finish line. No TV. No computers. Lazy strolls in the afternoon to the little convenience store for candy or ice cream.
All of these happy cottage memories revolve around families. That got me reflecting about one of my life’s failures—the ending of my marriage about seven years ago. At the same time, my son Abebe left to go to university in Japan. He has stayed there to work and live with his girlfriend, and visits only once every year or two.
This year I noticed that many of my close friends, relatives, and Facebook acquaintances were celebrating long-term marriage anniversaries. Some of them were eloquent and moving in their public tributes to their spouses of 20, 25, or 30 years. I’m filled with admiration for them. They have made it through the many challenges of marriage and parenthood and are now proud of their children, who are launching into their own adult relationships and careers.
These couples have something I don’t have and will never have. They have a shared history of triumphs, struggles, emotional highs and lows, major achievements and milestones, many of which will live on in their children’s (and potentially grandchildren’s) stories too.
I can’t pass on to my son an extensive family network like the one that my parents created for me and my brothers through their long-term marriage.
If my tone sounds sad here, it is in keeping with my mood during those “non-summer” weeks. Sad, yes, but not bitter. I seldom feel any anger or hurt about my marriage breakdown now; I’m on good terms with my ex-husband, who will always be the father of my son.
Moreover, I’ve been in a happy relationship with my partner Keith for almost seven years. Keith has supported me unconditionally through some hard times; we’ve shared the excitement of starting “creative” careers, and he’s shown me that life after running can still be fun!
But Keith, divorced after a 20-year marriage, has no children so we won’t have a future with a blended family.
I don’t want to glorify marriage and family life either; some couples stay together when they shouldn’t, and not all family gatherings are happy ones. The truth is that I’m a person who thrives on being solitary much of the time, and so was my ex-husband. That’s probably part of the reason we didn’t realize until it was too late how shallow our marriage had become. We took independence too far, and didn’t work on strengthening and adding to the bonds that held us together.
My next post will be a more positive one—because a couple of weeks ago summer finally arrived in Vancouver. I realized that in spite of all the changes in my life, I’ll always be a summer girl. I’ll never lose my capacity to savour summer’s delights.