From “On the Way to Other Country”
Time, stand still.
Stop just here, just now — on this cool, green morning, with the early sun pale through new leaves and my small garden flourishing and the children awake in their rooms and the gray kitten, Roosevelt, marching along the top of the board fence.
My daughters have had a friend to spend the night. Theirs is a wonderful and peculiar age, an age it will be painful to watch them leave. They are at the threshold of much, and yet are childish still. A part of their lives does not include us any more, but only a part. And it is, for a little while longer, a bearable fraction.
They have wakened early with their friend. The three voices, light and melodic, come down from an upper window to where I sit here, walled in by greenery, watching the day begin. I cannot hear what they are saying, nor is it proper that I should. Their concerns, at this hour, are their own. They are entitled to secrets. But I do hear the general tone of the talk, which contains a kind of contentment that has to do with more than their just having crept from bed. They are full already of the inexpressible languor of summer coming on.
Who does not remember that feeling? There is victory in it —the anticipation of pure and perfect release. No segment of a life to be found later will ever unfold with a riper, more pungent hedonism than a child’s summer. In the last days of school, as freedom nears, a kind of craziness starts to take hold, and all the rules lose force. Those days must be a hell for teachers, unless they are wise enough just to let go and be infected by it too.
So powerful is the recollection that even now, in middle age, though I go to the office as expected and keep up a pretense of devotion to my duties, I can feel that old start-of-summer craziness rise like a tide inside. If ever I do something unexplainable or punishable by law — immolate my typewriter or take to gamboling along public parkways like a “Playgirl” centerfold, garlanded with flowers — probably it will happen in this dangerous season of the year.
The children have noticed me out here and a cry has come down from the window. “Is there any breakfast in this house?” one of them demands to know — one of my own, their guest being much too polite.
Last night they watered my vegetable garden. Its dimensions are 6 feet by 15 feet, a tidy plot in which every leaf is counted. They watered it with the excessive passion of their present mood. An hour ago, in the early light, I found radishes beaten flat and tomatoes drooping and several branches of squash broken over at the joint. I looked on this damage with mild regret but without any anger at all. That’s how this time of year commands that everything should be done — immoderately, beyond reason.
A sleek grackle has come wading with his iridescent mane of feathers to peck among my sodden plantings. May he find something of use or interest there. I’ll leave him to it, and go now to answer that command about food.
By mid-morning the girls will be in swimming suits and demanding transport somewhere. By noon, this noon or another, the summer will have passed, and several other summers, too. And there will be boys — the sons of friends, suddenly become louts with predatory eyes and suspicious intent — hanging around the house.
By afternoon, all these children will be done. Gone off to other places in the world. Waking in other houses of their own, faintly remembering how the tide of summer used to rise. Remembering, perhaps, this very morning.
Time, stand still.