The last summer - FamilyEducation

The last summer

May 24,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My brother-in-law has a t-shirt that reads something like this: Three Reasons I Became a Teacher: June, July, and August. When Scott and I saw him with it, we laughed in understanding, but with a little shade of bitterness, too, because really very few teachers can afford to take off three WHOLE months out of the summer, given how little teachers are paid during the year--you're always trying to find creative ways to make a few extra pennies during those "off" months. But just as I was feeling sorry for myself, I thought about how lucky we are. Because even if we don't get those months off we do get more summer time than people in many other professions. There is that shimmering sliver of summer time awaiting us: and it all begins on June 12th. Surely we can make it until then. Summer: it has always meant so much to me. ********* As summer approaches, I've been having a whole series of strange dreams lately; specific dreams about specific people I haven't seen for ages, vague dreams about general people I once knew a long time ago, and odd symbolic dreams about people I love. A round of vivid, symbolic dreams like these seem to visit me each year, as the weather warms up. I dreamed about my grandfather a week or so ago and, more recently, about my grandmother. In my dream I visited her in her little apartment. She wasn't as I last saw her, the summer of 2006, healthy and self-composed--gentle and filled with grace, as she always was her entire life. Instead she was as I imagine she must have been in the last weeks of her illness--frail and shrunken, a shell of her former self. But when I walked into the room in my dream and saw her she recognized me and her face widened in a smile and her eyes sparkled. She reached out her hands to me and just as I was about to step into her embrace the sparkle died and she looked blankly at me, uncertain who I was or why I was there. Then she faded back into herself and the moment was gone. It was about as symbolic a dream as they come. The last summer she was alive--the last summer, by fortunate coincidence, that we were able to travel to Greece, I would wake up with the kids in the morning and we would clatter down the marble steps leading from my parents' apartment one floor up, to my grandmother's. I would put the key in the lock and turn it, swing the door wide, and find my grandmother seated in her favorite chair, the smell of coffee in the air. She would hold out her arms to the kids and say Good morning! in Greek, and then in English, and the kids would shyly shuffle in. I see her there now, under the window, her breakfast tray balanced on her knees, her coffee on the table, her toast poised in one hand. Her eyes crinkle as she watches the kids and she smiles and nods and each smile is lovely and soft--just as she was herself, so lovely. I know I'll hold that last summer up like a shining orb in front of me for the rest of my life. My grandmother will exist in those days, and in the ones which preceded them. My kids will sit on her lap and listen to her voice, and then the years will fall away and we'll be in Greece again, L. only 13 months old, the idea of T. not even a spark in the sky, or a glimmer yet. My grandmother will push L. in his umbrella stroller along the promenade at Flisvos, so happy to have her great-grandchild with her, to be pushing a stroller again in the warm evening air. At the plateia we'll unbuckle him and he'll tumble out and toddle along the pavement, taking stiff-legged steps along the same spots where my sister took her first steps, many years ago and where we played, when we were kids, and the evenings were just as warm and scented and filled with promise. The days will fall away, and I'll be there, a child again, leaning against my grandmother's soft arm.