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Summertime

I don’t remember why, but I always wanted to carry the watermelon. My mother always warned me that, if I dropped it, we would not be able to ice it down in my grandfather’s big number 2 tub, and that we would just have to eat it off the ground. Miraculously (as it now seems to me) I never dropped one, probably due to the fact that I caressed it and carried it as if it was the most valuable object in the world. Which at the time it always seemed to be.

Summers in 1950’s Dallas, before most of us had any air conditioning in either our homes or automobiles, were glorious in spite of the mind-boggling heat. We spent most of our time outdoors, and because it was cooler in the evenings outside than inside, even the grownups would congregate on lawn chairs in the backyard after dark. The three things the kids lived for were swimming at the public pool, homemade ice cream (hand-cranked of course), and watermelons (always bought from a roadside vendor). Because we did not live in an era of abundance, none of those treats were thought of as entitlements, and we were ever so grateful if we got to swim once or twice a week. Watermelons and ice cream were even rarer.

Feel free to accuse me of being overly nostalgic, but I maintain it was a grand time. Looking back, I think it was because our hopes were always high but our expectations were always low. The requests for swimming, watermelons, and ice cream came, as I recall, on a daily basis. So did the replies of “no” or “not today” or “maybe next week.” We lived each day not with a sense of bitter disappointment, but with the constant reminder that things like ice cream and watermelon are special indulgences that call for delayed gratification. In spite of the fact that we didn’t really know what delayed gratification is, we did get a lot of practice at it, all of which made the simple dissecting of a watermelon a glorious celebration that, in tone and passion, approximated a thanksgiving feast.

I hereby confess my utter failure at initiating both my children and grandchildren into the joys of delayed gratification. The predictable result is that they have far less passion for swimming, watermelons, and homemade ice cream than I do. I still get a little adrenalin rush every time I pass a roadside vendor with a pickup full of watermelons, and I much prefer a swim over air conditioning in order to cool off on a really hot summer day. I do admit that I have lost my fondness for hand-cranking the ice cream.

I think nostalgia plays an important role in our lives, and it is this: our fondest memories are inevitably of those times when we lived in the moment, when we celebrated “what is” rather than obsessed over the past or the future. They remind us of the futility of needless worry or unnecessary feelings of guilt. Ironically, they prompt us to stay in the present, to celebrate the goodness of what is rather than what was or what might be.

Summertime is not yet over. Even if they don’t enjoy it as much as you do, get the kids and cut open a watermelon or make some ice cream. You might be making better memories than you think!

(Reprinted from my July 30, 2015 weekly column)

Rev. Don Underwood