Summer’s Structure

Brian Confer

When I was seven, it felt like the world began and ended on my minute point on Earth. On the steep orchard hill near Omena where my family came to spend every summer, our days followed a slackened orbit that could be traced by simply moving from one porch to another. Our reference was the sun. We saw it come up all pink and alive from the front porch. The back porch faced due west, so at the end of the day we’d lounge there in the golden heat. These porches were made of stone, and served both as a boundary and a buffer. On them our world was tiny, complete, and contained.

We stuck close, my brother, sister and I, to the cottage and to each other. Now without our school year playmates, we formed our own alliances in the name of amusement. Nice days we organized whiffle ball games, in crummy weather I backed up my brother on an imaginary piano while he played the sweeper wand like a rock star. We did leave our fortress a couple times a week for swimming lessons down the hill in Omena Bay. My mom was phobic about us dragging sand in the house so after swimming, before we could step onto the porch, we had to brush the scratchy sand off our shins and from between our toes. Eventually we’d just take off our suits and my mom had at us with the garden hose. The spray felt sharp but soft–a lot like her–as she scoured the sand off us one at a time.

Whether I knew it then or not, by bringing us to live in the parameters of the cottage for three months every year, my mom was teaching us not to confine ourselves. My imagination just worked better up here. We had rules to follow and chores every morning, but we were rewarded with afternoons to pretend. My sister and I liked to make-believe we were running Grand Hotel, inviting our guests to admire the bathroom or relax on the porch.   
The swing on the porch was the ultimate perch in an already prized place. I loved to lie on it and think, my favorite feather pillow resting across my chest, its weight dense like the lead vest at the dentist’s office. The fabric on my pillow was of an old map, an early explorer’s version of the world. It fascinated me. It was grossly not to scale–North America was squished to look like a jalapeno. I looked at it and wondered what it was like for explorers to set out in a boat on only a hunch, to draw the lines of shores they had only dreamed about before.
   
When I had urges to daydream, the porch swing was the place to be–especially when it was raining. Under the awning of the porch I could be outside but spared the drizzle. I could spend long hours in the good company of the pillows and my favorite book, Abe Lincoln Gets His Chance.

My mom recently threw all the old porch swing pillows away because they were too tattered and smelled musty. I miss the heavy feather one with the map, maybe because when I held onto it, the world could fit in my arms. Back then I knew eventually one summer my arms would have to reach out to beyond the boundaries of this porch and my little nest of porch swing pillows. But I liked knowing that I could bury my face in it, despite the must and mold, or pull it over my feet and even the mosquitoes would have others to attend to.

This article was updated for web April 2008.

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