More on ‘Summah’

Guest Columnist

A half year ago I penned a piece here in these pages on summer, or ‘Summah,’ as I called it. That was in the New England idiom. Some of you related; some even liked my effort. Thank you.

Recently many of our family gathered in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va. That was a happy occasion on board USS Enterprise. Our younger daughter brought the following — her thoughts on ‘Summah’ from a much younger perspective. I realize that Eileen did this in a way of thanking me for her childhood. I’d say, “You’re welcome,” but the thanks are unnecessary. I am the one who should thank all of my children. I’m sure that many of you have reached this same conclusion. So, Eileen’s thoughts:

“Your article made me reflect on my own summers, which you provided me. Thank you.

“I also ‘summahed’ in Cohasset. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, that meant waking up at 7:30 or 8 a.m., having a quick bowl of cereal and hopping on my bike. Destination: the town pool. I rode down the steep hills of Pond Street with my towel and a life preserver around my neck, no helmet on my head. We rarely, if ever, came to a complete stop to cross at the bottom of Pond Street; just braked a bit, craned our necks to look around the big rock and hoped for the best. I’m still here, so luck was on my side.

“Once we reached the pool, we had swim lessons. Thursday lessons were at Sandy Beach, which was much colder, but we were required to learn how to swim in the ocean. Not a bad rule. When I got older, my trips to the pool were for Swim Team practice. I was not a very talented swimmer, but raced some stroke either individually or in a relay team in every meet. Sometimes we won; sometimes we lost. Overall, Cohasset had a strong team and I was fortunate to be a part of it.

“After swimming at the pool, I once again boarded my bike, this time with a wet towel holding place under my life preserver. I and my friends rode from the pool to the Sailing Club, where we were either Able Seamen or Skippers. We spent two hours tying knots, learning right of way, and, life preservers stowed in the bows of our Mercury boats, sailing in the shadow of Minot Light. What a life.

“After sailing, I might bike home to have a sandwich. More often, I’d bike back to the town pool or, as I got older, to Sandy Beach to hang out until late afternoon. I had to be home for dinner at 6 p.m. Some days we would keep our bikes at the Sailing Club and swim to Bassings Beach, accessible only by rowboat or under your own swimming power, clothes and towel held overhead as you dog-paddled across the harbor. Other days we would jump off the Border Street bridge. I am no longer young enough to consider jumping off the bridge a smart choice. As with careening down Pond Street, though, luck was on my side. Still other days, we would bike to a large house on Atlantic Avenue that had a full-size trampoline in the yard. For some unfathomable reason, the owners allowed us to jump on this trampoline as long as we weren’t too noisy. Such a setup is impossible to imagine today.

“Cohasset is a small town, and you can easily bike the length and width of it in a few hours. I did so every day from age 8 until about 14, when I began to work. Even working during a Cohasset summer was exceptional. My first real job, my introduction to taxes and a time clock, was at Target Industries, packing boxes of eyeglasses and contact lenses for shipment to opticians throughout New England. I learned much more than how to invoice on a computer and pack the contents of a tray into a box there. I learned to be on time, to be thorough and to pull my weight on the team so we could all go home at 5.

I learned that bosses can be very kind, as when they buy everyone lobster rolls for lunch, or provide cold sodas for happy hour at the end of a busy day. I learned that the best perk in the world is a free gym membership, a perk I’ve never again enjoyed in my career. The bosses I had at Target took me back every summer until I graduated from college, even when things were slow and there was little work for me to do. I happily washed the windows or counted the lenses in the back room for inventory, all to receive a paycheck and be able to go back to Notre Dame, where, by that time, I felt my real life was.

“I look back and wonder why I wanted to leave my hometown and start a real life anywhere else. I was lucky to be there. What a life, indeed.”

–Eileen O’Connor Labak, December 2011, reprinted with permission.

Indeed! It was truly grand. We all were truly blessed. Now we are all blessed again to be on this key, older and wiser, but still lucky.

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