This year, Karen English, author of It All Comes Down to This, kicks off our Girls of Summer List author interviews. Karen shares with us what summer means to her and how that meaning has changed and grown throughout her life.
Summer-The Long Sigh
by Karen English
Summer has always been a magical time for me, first as a child, then as a teenager, then as a traveling adult whose last child has finally gone off to college. It is and always has been the long sigh.
As a child, it was waking to natural rhythms and sounds and fragrances of morning: the sound of a lawn mower, the smell of cut grass; coffee percolating; pigeons cooing; kids on skates already. Then, the urgency of hurry, hurry— wolf down breakfast; escape to the faint chants of double-dutch halfway down the block. Everything outside was calling me. In the late afternoon, watering the front lawn while sitting on the porch. Blasting fat sluggish, flying things in the middle of their in slow, heavy flight. Ahh freedom. There was no hurry. We walked down to the public pool with towels around our necks, our flip flops slapping the soles of our feet. Nothing felt lovelier. Any minute there would be cool water to fall into.
Then, there was reading Ellen Tebbits or Henry Huggins on the porch swing after a hard day of play, and dreaming of one day being a writer just like Beverly Cleary. I was in the process of writing my own book with fourth grade skills about a girl just my age having to move from the city to the country. (I’d never been to the country so writing country scenes was challenging. But I had time. It was summer.)
Skip to summer at seventeen, going into my last year of high school. Now I have a six year old sister for whom I’m responsible. My mother works. Getting her breakfast, combing her hair, making sure she practices her piano—being responsible for her everyday. But I manage to eke out fun. I just have to take her with me everywhere I go. But in the late afternoons I get to escape into Jubilee by Margaret Walker, Black Boy by Richard Wright and If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, like a secret or a pocket- sized friend.
After years of childrearing finally the last child is leaving for college at the end of summer and I’m leaving for West Africa. I make music for travel. I’m a writer by now and everything is grist for the mill: Sitting on a beach in Accra (Ghana) and getting lost in the sight of the Gulf of Guinea; visiting the slave castles in Cape Coast and Elmina (in Ghana) where Africans were held until the ship was ready to transport them to the Caribbean or South America or the United States; taking a prop plane from Bamako in Mali to Timbuktu to see the ancient books from the time when Timbuktu was a great learning center in Africa. Taking a French course at the Institute Catholique in Paris when I thought: I’m going to learn French! And on and on.
Now, for me, summer is for travel, I don’t care how hot my destination. It is a time for ramping up the reading. Taking way more books than I could ever complete on my trip, but feeling secure that I won’t run out of stuff to read when all media are in French or Wolof or Bambara or Twi. I love that I can always open a book.