Teenagers crown themselves in the glory of the seasons, while we time travel to cheer on clumsy schoolgirls. The month of June is celebrated. Awards are given, friendships are sealed, and kindness makes an appearance in a 1960's kitchen.
The long version (get comfortable).
I have decided to lay claim to the month of June. It is a lush, green month, the month of weddings and roses, and footraces and hot dogs. It has all the promise of summer and the lingering sassiness of spring.
When I was still a teenager, my best friend and I laid personal claim to seasons. In those years defining ourselves was important, naming our favourite colours (she blue, me green), writers (she Dickinson, me Byron), and foods and movies, and books and rock stars and bands.
We were romantic, and literary, and she, an ethereal sort of person (of cloudless climes and starry skies, I used to think) said, “I will always be found in the autumn.”
The day she said that, we sat on a leaf-filled hill overlooking the power lines that bisected our two neighbourhoods.
The power lines were flanked on either side by trees and bushes with transmission towers spread evenly among cleared hills riddled with trails and footpaths. The boys from our school pulled bicycle stunts there, before the days of BMX, and old people walked their dogs on the paths, shaking their fists and cursing the boys who frightened the dogs with their antics. The dogs barked and the power lines hummed overhead.
Largely, we ignored the boys and the dogs as we sat in the weak fall sunshine, wearing sweaters and Seafarer jeans reading poetry to one another, falling a little in love with ourselves, swooning over Keats, deciphering Atwood. We stayed in the woods on our own, eating apples and soft bread rolls. I smoked.
It was our after-school ritual to meet there under the trees, queens of all we could see from our gentle hillside, dry leaves crackling around us, the transmission towers marching into the sunset, the suburban roofs beyond them, one like another. The future was close enough to smell.
So, she laid claim to autumn, and I, ever loyal, said I would take spring as mine. But I did so with a vague sense of disappointment, because truth be told I loved autumn with all my heart, all the moreso now, because she did, and I loved her.
But I took spring and loved it well. I am born in April so it made good sense and loving spring is no great hardship, its charms are no secret to anyone. It is frisky and bright, and yellow with ardent daffodils and dandelions, full of light and hurry.
Today, though, I get to choose again. Because one of the great joys of adulthood is that we are fully at choice. Today I choose June. Not spring, nor summer, but the radiant, in-between month of June. June is the ripening of spring. It is spring grown-up, mature, with full skirts and a wise attitude. June holds all the money cards, the magic of finishing of the school year and a VIP pass to summer. June invites reverie.
There is a dark trail that travels through the woods from the edge of the power lines to the edge of an elementary school field. Travel it with me as it takes us further back in time. It is there that we find chalk and limestone markings laying out a map for a Sports Day in a June of the 1960s.
In elementary school, I was not athletic. I was clumsy and bookish, a good speller, and a dreamer. Long before I had any idea that the Queen of Autumn would arrive in my life, full of a shared worship of poetry and smelling of Loves Baby Soft, I became accustomed to being the last picked for any team sport, and the first invited by teachers to the annual Spelling Bee. I was not friendless, but I was not popular.
My two occasional friends were Lou and Kerry, both popular sturdy girls, good at skipping and math. I also had a sad friend named Lorna, whose life was filled beyond bearing with neglect. Kerry’s mother sewed her beautiful clothes, and Lou had wonderful curly hair. I could offer neither, so Lorna and I became fast friends and wrote stories together which we carefully printed out in HB pencil on Playtime Doodlers and illustrated with drawings of girls with curly hair, wearing beautiful outfits.
To be fair, everyone is good at something. My sport was dodgeball. I was fast and skinny and knew how to stay out of the way. I had a fair hand at tetherball, too. It seemed I could take all that pent-up dreaminess and lack of grace, and pound it into that ball on a rope. THWACK! and around the pole it would go, high up above the heads of my opponents. Being tall for my age helped. This, of course, did not win me friends or ribbons.
Lorna didn't mind. She played no sports at all, was short and pudgy, and given to forgetfulness. At sleepovers, my mother would give Lorna a bath, wash her hair and clean her dirty fingernails. She would hang Lorna’s artwork and school papers on the fridge with magnets, alongside my brother’s and mine. The shiny gold stars glinted in the light from the stove hood as the pair of us, Lorna and me, smelling of soap, ate peanut butter on crackers and coloured in our pajamas at the table. There was an ocean of kindness in that kitchen.
Do you remember the Sports Days of Junes gone by? Perhaps you were athletic, or good at most things, like Lou and Kerry, or maybe you were more like me, surprised to find yourself with a physical body and unsure exactly what to do with it. Or perhaps you come from a darker, grimier childhood, like Lorna, where hope and soapsuds were in short supply.
In Grade 4, I won my only blue ribbon. My white sneakers flying across the grass, my too long, too skinny legs scissoring into the air and bony frail back arching up, up, up and over the bar of the high jump, face blue-skyward, landing with a thump, and the bar, like a metal miracle, stayed put. It was like a dream, and I remember my body shaking as Mr. DeVries pinned the ribbon onto my shirt. It waved in the June breeze like a triumph.
My mother arrived at that Sports Day barefoot. We lived near the school, and the shortest way to get there was by foot, across a muddy field. So mom picked her way across. It was a rare thing to see at school, a mother’s bare feet. Adding to the singularity of the event, she had lacquered toenails.
Carrying her sandals, wearing a billowing yellow dress and sunglasses, my mother appeared at Sports Day circa 1965 like a bright sun from another galaxy.
She had set her blanket at the edge of the schoolyard where the footraces would be held. Not too far from the building itself, and near a row of bushes and scrub forest that divided the school property from the adjoining field. It was a dry spot, with just enough shade, a good spot to see and be seen. She placed the blanket carefully to avoid getting any powder from the field markings on her dress.
Breathlessly, I reach the blanket to show off my ribbon, and see my mother, a perfect sun surrounded by a constellation of Robbies, and Rickys, and Garys – the Grade 7 boys - offering to trade their precious red tickets to bring her Dixie Cup ice creams and hotdogs. They shove and joke, with chests full of ribbons and insecurity, mimicking manhood, asking can I get you an orangeade, Mrs. Martin?
I could sense the distance I had yet to travel, from where I stood, skinny-kneed, to the kind of atmosphere my mother lived in.
That bright yellow dress, those white sneakers, and the dark blue ribbon are the colours that mark the threshold of a future yet to unfold, a body yet to be grown into, a soul sister yet to be found. The unimagined territory of menstruation, crushes, gossip and betrayal, are yet to be navigated. Thank god there will be poetry along the way.
Kerry and I, it turns out, are kindred spirits, staying in touch over these many years, by the graces of Facebook. She is still good at most things, though cares little for fashion these days. We have lost track of Lou and her curls, and Lorna survived despite the odds, to make a home in the Yukon Territories.
The Queen of Autumn and I still meet, sometimes even in the spring or fall on a grassy hillside. We share books, trade recipes, talk about our obsessions and poetry. We help one another to love ourselves, and others, better. My mother remains a shining sun, central to her own galaxy.
There is so much promise in June. So much hope, so much knowing that summer will come and go, and that autumn will come and lead us to the dim suns of winter.
And if we are lucky, like the trees, we will go on to see a thousand kinds of spring.