September is here at long last, the doldrums of summer moving toward an end. This is the time of the year when we begin counting the seconds before we get to take our jacket down from the back of the door in the mornings. Knowing Arkansas, there’s a fair chance that day won’t arrive until mid-November.
It’s Labor Day as we write this, The Observer and Spouse just back from down near Hot Springs, where we parked our lawn chairs and little ice chest on the long, curving beach at Caddo Bend on DeGray Lake. That’s where we go to pretend we’re on the real beach on the Redneck Riviera, smelling the salt and listening to the waves that were crashing there the day we were born and will be crashing there the day we die. We hear a good bit of Florida is choked with The Algae of the Red Death, so hitting the almost-beach instead of the real thing is probably for the best, even if there weren’t a 10-hour haul one way between here and there.
The water was low enough at Caddo Bend that the beach had grown wide as a football field, the swimming area within the floating orange buoys and rope line shrunk to no bigger than a Hillcrest backyard, but The Observer didn’t mind. Yours Truly is not much fond of swimming anymore and even less fond of cramming our bulk into a pair of swim trunks. We rarely get in the water when we head to the lake, preferring instead to camp in the dappled shade in the Hefty Boy Folding Chair we bought at Academy Sports and Outdoors (“Supports up to 450 pounds!” the tag trumpeted, a challenge The Observer, thankfully, has not accepted), nursing a cold one from our little cooler while we watch Spouse bob in the water, the love of our life back-and-forthing it to the lake every time her swimsuit gets dry. Her man, meanwhile, alternates between reading a paperback and watching the boats far out on the lake. Children dash to the water, their bare feet seemingly impervious to the rocks that make us wince. The clouds mound on the horizon and then spill over, and Spouse says: “I think I’m going to go get back in the water for a bit” and heads off toward the place where the water meets the shore.
It’s been a good summer, all in all. Not quite one for the memoir and inevitable biopic starring the chunky dude from “Lost” in his breakout silver-screen role, but close. We got to Washington, D.C., this summer, which has been a standing goal for years, walking with Junior and Spouse past the Hope Diamond and Captain Kangaroo’s jacket, the First Folio and the Wright Flyer. We stood in the long shadow of the Washington Memorial and read the Gettysburg Address from the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, a place that — though swarmed by tourists — simultaneously had the strange, still reverence of a church.
We also got Junior a driver’s license this summer, a full two and a half years after he turned 16 and following a year of butt-puckering moments teaching him to drive. His Old Man was standing with his nose pressed against the glass of the driver’s testing office the morning we turned 16, but Junior just didn’t see the need until we harangued him into it. These kids today.
And, of course, we got Junior off to college, a process we have talked about in these pages ad nauseum. We won’t belabor the point much more here, other than to say: The kids oughta be rioting in the streets over the cost of textbooks these days (we coughed up 276 bucks for one damn Spanish book!). And, you have no idea how quiet a house can be until the child who had filled those rooms and hallways has flown.
The Observer contemplated all this as we sat looking at the lake, where Spouse bobbed in the water. Her Loving Man is dating her again, both of us figuring this empty nest shit out as we go, both learning to be something other than someone’s nurse and bottlewasher, alarm clock and shrink and housekeeper. That’s a mighty fine place to be as Lady Summer packs away her greenery and goes to bed for another year. The clock ticks. The pages drift down from the calendar. Across the wide beach, Spouse sees us look up from our book and waves, and we wave back. And, for a moment, the world is whole and perfect, here at summer’s end.