It’s July! The month which used to bring me such joy.
I was born in July. And I spent (almost) every summer in July with my Grandparents in Sun City, Arizona, which I was certain was the the most wonderful place on earth.
Summers at my grandparents house were spent doing all my favorite things:
- Eating a fantastic breakfast – aka Cream of Wheat cereal with milk and A LOT of sugar
- The inaugural trip to Kmart at the beginning of the summer to pick out a new swimsuit, flip-flops and swim-cap
- Going to the pool every day. I also took swimming lessons for a few weeks at the beginning of the summer but I hated these, so let’s just move on
- Going to the library with my grandfather
- Visiting my grandfather’s lapidary studio
- Digging through my grandfather’s lapidary ‘tool box’ and ogling the polished stones whenever I had the urge
- Visiting my grandparents next door neighbors Bob and Marguerite. Bob hand painted rocks (way before painting rocks was a thing) with perfect, delicate little scenes and he kept them lined up in their living room. At least once every summer he would let me pick one to keep. The photo below isn’t one of his rocks but a small painting he made for me for my birthday. Also, Bob and Marguerite were square dancers and Margeurite had converted her pantry into a crinoline closet. The shelves were floor to ceiling a crinoline rainbow. And one of my favorite things to do was go in there, neck cracked upwards, admiring them all as if they were Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel
- Digging in my grandparent’s garden beds and yard, which was landscaped with thousands of smooth rocks. I rinsed them under the garden hose and pretended they were my grandfather’s polished turquoise. I painted them with my watercolor set and pretended they were one of neighbor Bob’s little painted masterpieces
- Letting the hose drench the hot parched earth and inhaling the intoxicating scent of water hitting the dry Arizona soil
- Visiting Bill and Mabel, who lived behind my grandparents. Bill used to sit out on his back patio, making crafts with beer can tabs. I remember him making a huge ‘blanket’ which glimmered in the sun. It was dazzling. He taught me how to make my own beer tab projects and I made bracelet after bracelet, bending the tabs and attaching them to the finger pulls. When I got too hot I would go inside and admire Mabel’s fireplace frogs, especially the one with the little rolled up piece of paper in its mouth; a tiny frog cigarette
- Visiting with Simone and Alec across the street. They were French. She was an artist. They kept sparkling lights up in their backyard gazebo. She taught me how to paint and how to make perfectly delicate tree branches. They had a very fluffy Collie dog named Lassie (what else?) and I would accompany them on their nightly walks, holding Lassie’s leash as we strolled the smooth and perfectly manicured streets in the setting sun
- Riding my bike with my mum. She wouldn’t spend the entire summer with us but would appear at some point. When she was there we would ride our bikes every day, first on the neighborhood streets which were smooth like glass, until we reached the golf course. There was a sign that said ‘No Bikes’, which we ignored and rode along the paths, under the sprinklers as they turned on every evening, to keep the course unnaturally green and lush. Riding a bike on a deserted golf course is one of life’s great pleasures which I highly recommend to anyone who gets the opportunity.
- Going to church with my grandparents every Sunday. I loved to see my grandparents and everyone dressed up. Before we left my grandmother would stand before her vanity, long arm outstretched, eyes squinted, gold metal bottle of hairspray uncapped and pointed towards her head. And then she would unleash the mist on her smooth white hair, making sure it stayed in place. My grandfather would wear a suit, with a bolo featuring one of his largest stones, and he would slather on enough Old Spice to make all eyes water within a 15 ft radius. We would drive the few blocks to church, my head swimming with the fumes of hairspray and aftershave. After Mass, my grandfather, beaming, would introduce me to everyone as if I was the most famous person on earth. He was so proud of me. I felt like a star in his presence
- Drawing and painting every single day. I drew geese. I sketched still lifes. One year my grandmother let me paint her golf cart. I covered it in sloppy saguaro cactuses and men wearing sombreros
- Playing the piano multiple times a day. I dug the sheet music out of the piano bench, admiring the artwork on each cover. I remember playing a lot of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Bing Crosby
- Helping my grandmother in the kitchen. I got to make the dressing for Crab Louie. I had the very important job of cutting onions for any meal that required them. Hence the onion cutting sunglasses in my photograph
- My favorites things she made were her Lemon Meringue Pie and Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. When she made made Lemon Meringue Pie, she used to give me leftover pie dough to make ‘cookies’. When she made Chicken Noodle soup she would bring out the pasta maker (a gift from my parents) and would run the dough through first to flatten. And then to cut the noodles. Flat dough would be spread on tea towels and laid throughout the kitchen, breakfast nook and dining room in preparation for the most magnificent of meals, the stock smelling of bay leaves and cloves. I could seriously eat her soup every single day of my life from now to eternity and never tire of it
- Making raisins. My grandparents would lay screens, propped up on workhorses, in the backyard. Scatter grapes along the mesh and then let the sun do its work. Have you ever eaten a raisin made from a fresh grape that you dried in your own backyard?
- Making sun-tea. Which is of course just (eventual) iced-tea that steeps outside. The Arizona sun is a special ingredient in a cooks repertoire. I think it’s a bit funny and pretty clever that a company from New Jersey named their company Arizona tea
- Rifling through Betsy McCall magazines and cutting out the paper dolls from the back page
- Watching Lawrence Welk and All in the Family on their big console tv. There was also a stereo and record player inside the console as well
- Ringing every single bell in my granny’s bell collection. Examining each bell in fine detail, turning them over and over in my hands, between my fingers
- Rubbing my fingers over the oil painting that hung above the living room sofa. Secretly pressing my fingernails into the textured paint and leaving little moon shaped dents behind
- Playing games while sitting around the dining room table. Gin Rummy, Life, Tripoli
- Setting up a puzzle on a card table in the living room and working on it for days. But if my mum was in town she would obsessively stay up all night long alone and finish it until it was complete
- Trying on all the sun hats and visors in the hall closet
- Spending hours in my grandparents walk-in closet
- My grandmother had so many beautiful shoes. All stored in their original boxes. She had both her shoes and kept some of my Mum’s as well. Beautiful silk shoes with delicate tapered heels like icicles. I would try on every single pair, every single year. She however wore the same pair of sturdy white sandals every day
- Also in this closet were my mum’s formals. Tulle and silk and crinoline with layers of petticoats and underskirts
- And of course my granny’s colorful shift dresses. Classic 60’s streamlined shape, sleeveless, filled with riotous color and florals and geometric designs
- My grandfather also kept his shiny, one of a kind, bolo collection in this closet on a rack against the far wall
- Smelling every perfume on my grandmother’s vanity/dressing table. I loved the old atomizers with the little bulb that you squeezed
- My grandmother’s lipstick drawer. She had a drawer filled entirely with lipstick. They all stood upright in the drawer and were separated from each other by individual dividers that she probably made herself. I tried on each lipstick at least once every summer
- My granny’s nail cart. She turned a rolling brass filigree bar cart into a portable nail station. It kept her hundreds of nail polish shades (mostly variations of frosty pink) and also other nail accoutrements like cotton balls, emery boards and wooden cuticle sticks
- Taking a bubble bath. With Jean Nate and an inflatable bath pillow, which I thought was so fancy. I take a bath once in a blue moon now as an adult and I always think I really should get one of those bath pillows
- Dolls. Dolls, dolls, dolls. My grandmother kept all my mother’s dolls and they were so beautiful. Gorgeous, hand painted composite dolls with extensive and perfectly laundered and pressed wardrobes. The full size dresser in my bedroom was a doll clothes dresser and all of their clothes were kept in these drawers, folded neatly, tissue paper protecting the most delicate of items. One of the most momentous events of the summer was the Nancy Ann Storybook reveal. A cabinet in my Mum’s bedroom held every single Nancy Ann Storybook doll, in their original boxes, and every year we would take them all out one by one and spend hours opening them and admiring them all before tucking them back away in their home
- Going to a baseball game on July 4th. I don’t remember the games and I couldn’t tell you who played but the fireworks were amazing and they had the most delicious hot dogs. There are three places in this world to get a great hot dog: New York City, Home Depot and Baseball Games. I always felt July 4th was the beginning of real summer and also a quiet signal that time would start moving very fast and before I knew it summer would be over and I would be back at home, starting another year at school. My birthday is in July and the fireworks on the 4th announced in my head that soon I would be another year older
- Celebrating my birthday. Of course the event of the summer was my birthday. Every year my grandparents would invite all their neighbors over, all over the age of 70. My granny would bring out her rose china, and that day I would help her polish the silver in preparation for the event. I would get dressed up and braid my hair and get to wear jewelry and probably some lipgloss as well. Everyone would sit around and talk and they would bring me special little gifts, though didn’t care about the gifts so much. It was the event that mattered. The culmination of my birthday celebration was the cake. It was always a white cake, and always adorned with beautiful pink roses that matched her china. I would cut the cake and everyone would sing me happy birthday and that moment was always the happiest moment of my life until it repeated itself the following year.
When my grandparents died all of these things ceased to exist, except as memories to hold unto as long as I am able.
My parents lived in my grandparents home for awhile and when we were clearing through their things we found pink roses in the freezer. All the pink roses they had saved from each of my birthday cakes. Holding onto their own memories as long as they lived.