Woodson Harvey column: A summer state of mind

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2021

By Kristy Woodson Harvey
For the Salisbury Post

My love affair with summer began, as I think it does for most people, in childhood. The day that school got out was — and remains — one of the most amazing days of every year. No more waking up early. No more homework. Trips to the beach. I felt sorry for everyone without a summer birthday like I have because they didn’t get to have the best kind of birthday party: a pool party, of course.

Looking back, that love of summer had to have burrowed itself deep within my cells, must have been the reason that, now, as an adult, I write summer beach reads. Even in the depths of a gray, rainy, freezing February, I can open my laptop, move my fingers, and find myself sitting in the sun, water from my favorite shore lapping at my feet.

Someone asked me on a podcast interview recently if my novels, which are set on real and fictionalized versions of the North Carolina coast, had ever influenced anyone to move to this slice of paradise where summer — or, at least, that summertime feeling — seems to last much of the year. My answer was immediate and simple: Yes, they have. My books influenced me.

The summer I wrote “Slightly South of Simple”, the first book in my Peachtree Bluff Series, set in a fictional town based on Beaufort, N.C., was the first time my family packed up and moved for the whole summer, only going back home when absolutely necessary. Research, perhaps. An excuse, certainly. But, then again, why not? When we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to the town we loved so much, we decided not to pack our bags, not to go back home — just for the year. Our son was in preschool, after all. If we were ever going to do it, this was the time. I wrote two more Peachtree Bluff books.

Five years, six books and a new fictional town of Cape Carolina later, I think it’s safe to say we’re full-time residents.

And I couldn’t be happier about that. Beaufort is a magical place of sparkling seas and hidden islands, wild horses and lively dolphins, the kind of place where a mile walk downtown takes hours because stopping to talk to neighbors is the best part. It is a town of pre-revolutionary homes and pirate lore, buried treasure and hidden secrets. It is beautiful all year round, but I have to say, this place really hits its stride in the summer.

A sea breeze keeps it a solid 10 degrees cooler than its closest inland neighbors and, when friends from towns flung far and wide meet up, boats anchored on sand bars that come and go with the tides, when I have a cold drink in my hand and children’s laughter fills my ears, I know that we have made it. My favorite season has arrived.

Summer, for me has always felt like breaking free. I still have work to do and pages to write, responsibilities to fulfill and laundry to wash. But the day my son bursts through the school doors for the last time, when we put away the pencils and glue, textbooks, and notebook paper for another year, he is changed. And so am I. For three months, I am a kid again too, one who swims in the ocean and eats ice cream every afternoon. During these months, I am happier, lighter, and less uptight than the rest of the year.

I always wonder: Is it simply the memory of being a carefree kid that can totally transform us? Or is it something about the season itself that lulls us into this type of tranquility?

Either way, it’s no coincidence that Memorial Day — the unofficial start of summer — and the Fourth of July, two of the holidays in our American culture that most personify freedom, are integral parts of this beloved time. Because summer, to me, has always been a season of just that: fewer rules, laxer schedules, longer days. More time with friends, less stress. Summer nights. Summer breezes. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, hair streaked from the sun, fingers pruned from the water, bodies perpetually covered with at least a little sand, it is all ours. We are as free as we’ll ever be.

But we don’t have to be at the beach to find summer. Summer can be on your sidewalk in a sliver of sun, in your living room with a cold glass of tea and a fresh, ripe peach. It can be in a lighthearted conversation with an old friend on the phone or face to face. Summer is children running through front-yard sprinklers and booming fireworks, dogs lapping at garden hoses and a thick slice of watermelon. Most of all, summer is in the pages of your favorite book, that one that instantly transports you to a simpler place and time, that reminds you of those years popsicles dripped down your arm and you played with friends until sundown.

Yes, eventually the breeze will cool, and the days will get shorter. It will be time to buy school supplies and get back on schedule. The seasons will change as the earth begins another glorious trip around the sun. But it’s nice to remember that, no matter how cold it gets, how deep the snow becomes, summer is a state of mind. And, if you can’t seem to find it within yourself, the pages of a favorite beach book are never too far away.

Kristy Woodson Harvey is a New York Times best-selling author and Rowan County native.

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