I spent the weekend at my grandparents', as I've been doing since approximately the dawn of time. My grandparents are great, and they have a pool. Comes in handy when it's 412° and 206% humidity. Almost everyone was there this weekend. It was just like old times. Except: it wasn't. Things are never as they were, are they? My grandparents are still the same as they ever were -- card players, joke tellers, gracious hosts who always have a supply of assorted Tastykakes at the ready -- but at the same time, I can see them changing before my eyes, and I don't like it one bit.
Took a walk around their yard on Saturday, and I spent a lot of time reminiscing about what used to be. The pop-up camper used to be right there, on the side of the house, filled with laughter and juice boxes and suntanned children playing spades and taking naps and pretending. I still remember Nana Shively's sheets: white, cotton blend, with a red rose print, soft from years of wear, always cool in the middle of a sweltering summer day, fragrant with the familiar perfume of mustiness and fabric softener.
Where the table is now, on the concrete patio, there has always been a table, but this weekend it was just Nana and Poppy, Kim and my mom and me, when it used to seem like God and everybody would be there every day. Nana Agnes, Nana Shively, Faye and Gladys and Sr. Patrick, Aunt Shirl and Pam. Aunt Bet and Tina and Stephanie and whatever kids we would bring along from swim team practice, some of them relatives, some of them friends, all of them family.
Now we drink from paper cups of ice water and cans of generic diet soda when there used to be a refrigerator filled with Coke in the garage. Colored aluminum cups and plastic Tupperware tumblers would hold ice water and Hi-C and Hawaiian Punch and sun tea and, now that I look back on it, probably mixed drinks made of whatever was around. Sometimes for dinner the grownups would drink wine, chablis I think, from a giant green bottle.
Towels and bathing suits would hang all over the fence in various states of air-drying. I recall the summer we all had "Where's the Beef?" beach towels. There was a constant rotation of gradually fading bright colors coming from the garage, reds and blues and pinks and yellows and stripes and abstract patterns. They would wave in the wind like so many flags of a comfortable kingdom. Now the only towels are mine, and they don't stay on the line for months at a time any more; as soon as I get dressed, someone folds them and sends them home like unpopular leftovers.
But it is the garden that has changed the most, so much it almost kills me to remember. There used to be roses everywhere, every color. My grandmother was so proud of her roses once. The bushes were always so properly kept, deadheaded regularly, watered and fertilized and loved so very much. Up in the yard, by the trees, were Poppy's tomato and strawberry plants, his wild rhubarb, his bright red gladiolus that seemed to grow as tall as the trees. Now there are hibiscus, beautiful but not the same, and a riot of cosmos and some other flower that nobody knows the name of, growing unkempt like weeds. Annuals, as though everyone suspects that next year there might be no one there to see them.
Maybe if I had children of my own things would seem different to me -- the cycle might continue, unbowed and unbroken, unchanged. But then again, maybe not. Perhaps all the years of wrangling us kids, of zinc oxide and iodine and baby oil, of ants on the deck and caterpillars and naps in the grass and swim meets and skinny dipping, perhaps all of it has finally caught up with my family. We're not, none of us, as young as we used to be. It is unreasonable to expect us to continue as though we are.
But I'll be damned if I don't miss the days when there was nothing more to life than diving for change at the bottom of the deep end and feasting on Schafer bologna and Country Time lemonade and fudgesicles. When did summer get so bittersweet, and not the fall?