I am a huge fan of warm summer nights. The soft diminishing light, the buzz of cicadas, the earthy smells that drift up from the moist soil in the backyard…ahhhhh. Top it off with a big yellow moon and you’ve got perfection. When you’ve grown up somewhere, that place gets into your blood and stays there. It doesn’t matter where else you live, or for how long. Your place of kidhood will always, for better or worse, sound and smell like home. That’s one of a great many things I love about Maryland. No matter where I am in the state, it feels like an old friend.
I had a fairly large river in my backyard when I was growing up (well, practically in my backyard). It was a short, barefoot-scorching hop down the blacktop road to the community beach, and I spent a huge amount of time there. I mean, if you had marsh grass and redwing blackbirds and crabs and minnows at your beck and call, wouldn’t you want to hang out there? So I did. Kids in my neighborhood knew which pier held the best odds for crabbing, and which stretch of beach hid the old ship wreck (a.k.a busted wooden rowboat). We lovingly named the beach’s sole osprey, even though she tried to kill us every nesting season. We jumped off the pier in ridiculous belly flops. We ebbed with the tide.
Our river held an island, and sailing out to it was a rite of passage that we took seriously. Older kids would point to the island’s cliff that used to hold a long, precarious rope swing. A girl died on that swing, they said. We all pretended not to believe believe it — but our inner kid knew that it had to be true. And that the island was haunted.
As the crickets chirp tonight I think about my boys and the sense of home that will live within them. We’re in an old suburb now (which I like, but it’s not nearly as cool as the river). Someday they may kiss someone under a willow tree as the summer moon looks on. Or ride bikes to the stream with a best friend. Or go camping in the backyard. Memories like that, and dozens of others, will embed this neighborhood into who they are. I hope that they have a special mix of sensory images that can bring them back home in an instant, just like I do.
I haven’t lived by the river in 20 years, but I can still feel the coarse sand between my fingers. The tang of fish, old seaweed, and saltwater may cause some to hold their noses–but not me. Sink me into the greenish-brown water. I’m home.