mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Remembering the Beginning of 3-Month Summers

Reading Virginia Woolf got me thinking about "moments of being" (see the sidebar). Could I remember an early moment of being? Was there an early shock, when I suddenly saw a pattern behind the cotton wool of my life?

I don't know how old I was. I was in school but just becoming aware of measures and counting up things -- first or second grade? I stood at the gate of our backyard, looking through the twisted wire design out into the street.

Maybe someone had told me. Maybe I figured it out. But the fact -- or its meaning -- struck me like a blow. Summer vacation is three months long. Never before had summer been a defined quantity. It had stretched out without shape. It went on and on and on and then school started again. But three months seemed so specific. Twelve weeks. The world was suddenly a much smaller place. It had limits. Summer was no longer a lazy state of mind. It did not proceed at its own pace anymore. It did not end because I was tired of library books and the whirr of window fans and ready for new pencil boxes and notebooks. It ended in three months.

This insight depressed me. I once tried to explain this terrible disappointment to someone, but whoever it was just didn't get it.

Maybe is was school itself that created these limits. Here in upstate New York, summer begins and ends well within the three-month school vacation. Pools don't open till Fourth of July and by the end of August the leaves are turning golden. But summer does have a limitless quality in St. Louis. Swimming pools are open on Memorial Day and September is full of scorchers. I actually was one of those kids who loved the first day of school every year. Still, summer should not be counted out in days.



Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf

According to Woolf, "un-being" is the cotton wool of everyday life. Every once in a while -- suddenly -- you have a shock. There is a revelation of order -- a pattern -- behind the fuzz. These are the true "moments of being," when you become aware of something real behind appearances. These may be found in the memories of childhood -- the reason we remember some things and not others.