Zinsser on Friday

Where Did the Summer Go?

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By William Zinsser

September 3, 2010


 

Where did the summer go?

I thought it had just begun.

Somebody tell me I counted wrong

And it’s really still July.

Somebody tell me the sun

Isn’t really so low

In the sky.

Where did they all get lost,

The things that we somehow missed?

Somebody tell me it’s not too late

To cross them off our list.

Somebody tell me . . . but who am I kidding?

I feel that chill in the air.

Somebody tell me,

I’d like to know

Where

Did the summer go?

That’s the final song of a musical revue I wrote in 2002 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the seaside community in Connecticut where our family has long spent its summers. The show, called What’s the Point?, was performed by the adults and children of the community and later had a short off-Broadway run.

The brief life cycle of a summer colony—by the sea, by a lake, in the mountains—took me by surprise with its strong emotional content. Into the two months of July and August are compressed 10 months of dreams and expectations, and when those two months finally arrive they pass more quickly than months ordinarily do. July renters can always hear the galloping hooves of August; August renters can never quite ignore the goblin of Labor Day, grinning on the horizon. Small encounters are heightened beyond their actual importance; every moment has a filament of loss.

Here are a few of the familiar summertime events that my songs visit.

Come Along With Me. Hopes are high as paradise is described:

Come along with me to Old Black Point.

Please imagine summer by the sea.

See the sunlight dancing on Long Island Sound,

Is there any place you’d rather be?

(I don’t think so) . . .

Over here are families at the beach,

Children building castles in the sand,

Parents eating pizza in the noonday sun.

Is there any other place so grand?

(I don’t think so)

A Summer Place. A longtime resident arrives for the season and feels a comforting familiarity:

It’s always there when you come back in June,

A summer place,

It doesn’t ever change from year to year.

You see the same old houses and the same old friends,

And all your winter tensions disappear.

Your house has been expecting you to call,

Your summer house,

You know exactly where you left the key . . .

The Fourth of July. A grandmother and her daughter are reminded that summer communities are a catch basin for family members of all ages, and that the annual Fourth of July picnic is the one event at which its oddest relatives and lost sheep will unfailingly return:

A:  Who’s that boy with earrings? He must be someone new.

B:  That’s Bobby Blair, remember? He studied with a monk in

Katmandu.

A:  That’s Bobby Blair? Imagine! Who’s that girl with purple hair?

B:  That’s Natalie O’Brien. She’s married to that weirdo over

there . . .

Both:  But they all come back for the Fourth of July,

the Fourth of July, the Fourth of July! . . .

Just Like People Used to Do. A boy and a girl (as they were once called in musical comedy) yearn for a time when summer wasn’t so complicated:

Tournaments and tennis clinics!

Swimming lessons in between!

Cocktail party invitations!

Messages on my machine!

Ev’rything’s so organized,

Every minute booked,

When did good old summertime

Get overlooked? . . .

We could walk along the beach when the tide is low,

Or poke along the shore in a canoe.

We could bicycle into town with the gears on low,

Just like people used to do.

We could watch the baby ospreys

Just learning how to fly,

Making tentative circles in the sky . . .

Little Animosities. A peevish older woman relishes the tiny umbrages that by mid-August start to seep into everyday life:

Mrs. A is mad at Mrs. B

Because she didn’t get invited to her ladies’ tea . . .

Mrs. O is mad at Mrs. Q

Because she heard that she had criticized her dog Shoo-shoo,

Mrs. T is mad at Mrs. S

Because she thinks she stole her recipe for bouillabaisse . . .

An August Thing. As Labor Day looms, a girl learns a different kind of lesson from the tennis pro: summer love moves to its own set of rules:

We had something going, baby, it’s true.

Ev’ry day was special, knowing I’d be with you.

(But) old man September’s gonna pull the string.

Me and you? It’s an August thing. . . .

 

Where Did the Summer Go? This concluding song has since been used in memorial services in our community. It turns out to be not only about the vanished summer, but about all the other passages of time that occurred while we weren’t looking. How did the kids suddenly get so old? How did we get so old?

Where did the summer go?

I thought it had just begun.


Note: The music of “Where Did the Summer Go” and other songs from “What’s the Point?” can be found at williamzinsserwriter.com.

William Zinsser is the author of 18 books, including On Writing Well.


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