like so many of the very sweetest moments, we bumbled straight into it. didn’t set out to clear the deck, haul in the props. just simply decided: big boys are rolling in the door round nine o’clock, we’re not sitting down to eat till they get here.
no matter that that starlit hour is more like bedtime on a schoolnight. this is summer. clocks be dashed. we’re keeping our time, summer time, not greenwich time or CST time or CSDT time, or all those alphabetical configurations that amount, truly, to playing games with clockhands.
come to think of it, it was the little one himself who put his foot down. who declared: i’m not eating till everyone’s here. i want family dinner.
and so it’s been for a string of nights now. we set the table out back, the door table, the wobbly table, the one with paint that flakes (a little chip o’ ancient white with your salad, oh well, another source of…mineral??).
we stoke the citronella candle buckets, the ones that bar the biters, or at least keep their bites outside, on the far side of the screen.
we zip around the yard with felco no. 2s in hand, clipping here and there, a rose, a stem of yarrow, delicate feverfew–the wee little daisy that bobs its head and does away with headaches should you steep it in a cup. we stuff stems in an old glass jar, light candles. put out plates and forks and knives.
uncork the prosecco, this summer’s delight, the sparkly wine that not only fizzles, it foams, a thick white froth of effervescence, summer uncorked. (it started as a curiosity, “research” for a story, now it is downright essential, the liquid testament to the season’s looser side.)
the two-hour dawdle before dinner is just what summer orders: time found, time to sit and savor. time to putz around the kitchen, the garden, the summer porch. what’s not to savor there?
it is, in its own sweet way, an act of defiance. it’s saying: we won’t let the odd-timed activities of our lives steal away the one deep-rooted truth of our existence, family dinner. that holy sacred hour when we sit before a table set with care, look down at plates piled high, join hands and say out loud our thanks for all that brought us to this circle.
as the drape of summer’s eve descends beyond the screens, as darkness falls, and candlepower keeps us awash in flickered light, we tell the day’s stories. we inquire. we listen. we laugh. we gasp at whatever was the drama of the day, the afternoon, the evening.
it is all part of this summer’s deep understanding that while we might not live in times–or be of single-digit years–when rolling out of bed and building adventure was the first and only order of business (after lapping up bowls of cereal ‘n’ milk and the few scant berries you’re allotted when you grow up amid a flock of seven berry-grabbers), we can–and will–claim for ourselves whatever wisps of summer come our way.
it is planting a stake firmly in the day, proclaiming it unlike the schoolyear, unlike the days and weeks when bedtime matters, when we conform to grid of hours and litanies of assignments, big and small.
it’s as if we can’t be bound by indoors, and kitchen tables. we are as hungry for the summer porch as we are for the corn, the cantaloupe, the herbed everything that stirs our appetites and fills our plates.
to get to our particular summer porch, there is a walk involved. it’s not attached to the house, but rather on the far end of the garden. and we’ve noticed, time and time again, that the simple act of moving through space, tiptoeing along the brick walk, even in the darkness that follows every dinner, is to whisper to the knowing place, the one that’s deep inside our soul: we are leaving behind the cares and worries of the house. we are dispatching to the screened-in place where there is only breeze and candlelight, where chairs are old, are weathered, are storied. where crumbs don’t matter, and wet spots from where the wine bottle perspires or the glass tips over, they’re not worries either.
there’ve been nights when i am cleaning the kitchen at half past ten.
and i don’t mind.
because what’s preceded that, a long summer’s eve waiting for the rumble of the car down the alley, into the garage, the slam of a car door, the grown-up bass-voice of a manchild who’s been rowing on a river, and his father who waits for him at the river’s edge at dusk in a murky corner of the city, the joy of knowing we are one now, all together and on the cusp of sitting down to share an hour of our day, it is the holiest slice of time i know right now.
it’s summer dinner, and the waiting is so easy.
how are you mixing up your year-round life, to mark this chapter we call summer? what stakes have you pounded in the turf, claiming this as time you’ll savor summerstyle, slow and sloppy, sweet and oh-so-succulent?