August is the last month of Summer, and I must admit that I have always had a love/hate relationship with the hottest season. When I was a boy, it meant liberation from school, and that was always welcome. Latterly, it meant going to a Boy Scout Camp at some place like Lake Arrowhead — although one year — 1974 — we went up to Log Cabin Wilderness Camp up in the High Sierras. But apart from such escapes, the only refuges from the blistering heat of a Southern California Summer were the air-conditioned public library, movie theatres (if you had the money), and supermarkets. Our house boasted no such luxury. The memory of long walks in the smoggy air, watching the heat waves rise from the sidewalks, and gazing up at mountains burned brown by the heat — when they were not literally burning — does not endear the season to me.
But I have lived elsewhere. The muggy heat of a New York City Summer is also something I could do without. But here in Central Europe, usually it will rain once or twice a week, cutting through the damp heat. As a balance, Americans in Europe usually use the Summer holidays to visit the historic sites and old cities of the Mother Continent. This brings a great deal of amusement to the locals, as any who can escape their legend-haunted homes for whatever mountain, lake, or seaside resort available to them to will do so — all the while wondering why those crazy Americans insist on torturing themselves.
To be fair, this was a time-honoured custom for many Americans as well, and still must be. From Bar Harbour, Maine to Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, to Biloxi, Mississippi, the well-to-do of our own country used to make regular pilgrimages — as they did in mountainous regions from Yosemite to the Adirondacks. The wealthier still do; a large annual feature at many Unitarian Churches is their “Welcome Back Social” near Labour Day, when they resume regular services after their well-heeled congregants return from their Summer holidays.
Certainly, the summer resort of yore had an elegance of its own: ladies in flowing summer dresses and large floppy hats; gentlemen in seersucker or linen suits and straw boaters or Panama hats. Indeed, in many such places the concluding weekend ended with a festive bonfire of soiled straw headgear. Countless novels and short stories set in such places dealt with summer romances, as fleeting as the fireflies that lit up summer evenings. Of course, summer dinner jackets would be white. In some places, even the habits of nuns and the cassocks of priests would change colour in deference to the climate.
Never having had the kind of money it would take to go to such places, I don’t. But we all benefit from the kind of cuisine that was developed in these resorts. For myself, I love hearty soups and stews, steaks, roasts, and chops. But summertime fare becomes rather more — er — dainty. Cold vichyssoise and gazpacho become the order of day; main courses morph into meat-nearing Cobb, Chef’s, and Caesar salads. And there are, of course, little sandwiches. But the one place these kind of things will not be seen is summer barbecues. Ribs, steaks, burgers, chicken — all with various barbecue sauces; of course, if you live in rural Southern California, you may be treated to one of our local delicacies, Santa Maria Tri-tip. Bonfires are another joy of the summer — whether at the beach with a shore dinner (or at least lobster rolls!) or inland.
Whether or not you have one of your own, public gardens of all kinds are much sought after in Summer, as are parks — be they National, State, County, or City. Hiking, sailing, horseback riding — all of it is available. It is, of course, baseball season, which may see you heading out to a stadium to watch a live game — pro, college, high school, or little league — unless you are playing some softball yourself.
It being August, the memories of the last Fourth of July with the fireworks, parade, cookout, and the rest are fading. Halloween candy, decorations, and costumes are already in the stores — which, if you are a kid, provides something to look at that isn’t one of the “back-to-school” offerings. Many parents are relieved at the looming return to education of their nearest and dearest. But there is one major Church holy day before that event!
The feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven on August15 has a great many folk customs associated with it in various countries. Herbs and grapes are blessed — in token of the fact that the harvest has begun. In many places there are processions in her honour, and different cultures have special foods they prepare for her day. It is a Holy Day of Obligation, and so a wonderful time to rekindle our devotion to Her. Our Lady of the Assumption is patroness of both France and the Acadian people, so whether you are from Louisiana or Maritime Canada, you may say a prayer for the dispossessed.
If you live in a temperate climate, the theme of harvest — which just gets underway August 1 with Lammas day — becomes ever stronger. The leaves are still green, but we know that in a few weeks they’ll begin losing their green, and transforming — if we live in a place where they do, otherwise brown is what we have to settle for — into golds and reds. Parents go back at work, children are back at school, and a sort of normality returns as the Summer heat fades, and the Autumn cool begins to take its place. Then shall come the feasts of Autumn, which bring so much pleasure. But beyond that is cold and snow of winter, which we may well be dreading after all the fun in the sun. So it is that we must remind ourselves that beyond that is the joy of Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, and all the rest of it.
In a way, the change of season is much like the course of our lives. When we are young, life is like summer — filled with things to do, places to go, people to meet. This is when we explore the wonderful life that has been given us. We have energy, and often enough, time — if not always money. It is in the summer of our lives that we find a vacation, start a career, nurture interests, and make friends.
But slowly, imperceptibly at first, the harvest time comes in. Our children and/or those of friends start graduating from High School and then college. Our energy begins — ever so slowly at first, then more rapidly – to wane. Our pursuits tend to become more sedentary. We have more yesterdays than to-morrows, and we have to face the fact that we are in the Autumn of our lives.
As with the seasonal Autumn, this one continues, and gets colder. There are of course several ways we can deal with this. We might deny that anything has changed, and try to stick with our Summer sports so long as we can, and behave as though we are still vacationers at a fine resort. Or we might take what joy we can in the new season, and enjoy the mellow pleasures that come to us — the hot toddies instead of the chilled white wine. Are we no longer excelling at this or that as we did? Let us enjoy telling stories of days gone by to the young. We now have more time to do things we could not before — by all means, let us do so!
But however much we may enjoy the pleasures Autumns afford us, winter and its cold is getting closer as well. We are getting stiffer, and sleepier, and soon must take our departure. Well, here too we can rage and rant against it. Or we can bundle up warm and enjoy the firelight and the bright stars of night — and we can get ready for the great holidays that illumine the depths of winter.
But in the calendar of our lives, it is not Christmas shopping and the like that we need to do. It is preparing our souls — trying to practise the virtues, more devoutly receiving the Sacraments and offering up our prayers and devotions. We have less in the way of distractions — and this, no doubt is why the elderly we saw at Summer’s blinding height would say the Rosary in their deck chairs. Despite the Summer all around them, for those long-ago elderly, winter had arrived.
If we succeed, then we shall leave the place of Winter for those Halls where it is always Christmas and holly; and Easter and lilies; and Pentecost and greenery. Where all holy days are one, and there is no hope, because all hopes are fulfilled, and no faith because all is revealed. The bright new life of Spring, the gorgeous flowers of Summer, the beautiful leaves of Autumn, the bright lights of Winter — all at once surrounding and bedecking the many mansions He Who made all made for us — if only we shall be loyal to Him until He takes us.