For all the years before there was texting, I was the one who said it first, phoning her at the crack of dawn every Aug. 1, blurting out, “HappyTopOfTheFerrisWheel!” before she could even say hello.
Now my friend Beth beats me. “HAPPY TOP OF THE FERRIS WHEEL” she texts in all capital letters the second her iPhone clicks to Aug. 1.
The two of us have been celebrating this non-holiday since our adult children were in middle school. They brought home Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting” and we read their copies, and maybe because our kids were still young, we felt the book’s truth even more then than we do now.
We knew, even on the hottest August days, when our children were right in front of us, playing with their friends, watching TV, begging us to take them to the mall, to the beach, to the movies, that September was biding its time, hiding in the shadows, waiting to whisk them back to school and take them away from us.
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.”
These words, Natalie Babbitt’s words, the first time I read them, not only made me want to hug my children close and treasure the days. They also made me remember a day of my childhood, a hot August day when I was 10 years old.
I was going to a day camp behind Tower Hill School in Randolph. It was free, a mile walk from my house, and I walked there alone. No one had water bottles then so we drank water from a hose at the school, warm water that tasted like rubber, but tasted good, too. I learned how to make gimp bracelets that day at camp. I learned that when I pumped high enough on a swing, the hot air turned cool on my skin. And I learned that a nickel found on the side of a street could make a girl feel rich. I bought an orange popsicle from the ice cream man that day and shared it with my best friend, Rosemary. Later, at home, I ate fireballs and read comic books in our cool, unfinished basement.
It was a top of the Ferris wheel day, I know now. But I didn’t have these words then. It was motionless and hot, and the day had paused in its turning. And I had paused, too, to think, to reflect. On the long walk home. On the swing. Eating my popsicle. In the cool basement. And the day got stored.
I try to store August days now. I’ve tried since that memory resurfaced so many years ago. I pause and look around at the world that’s right in front of me, at the world that I see with my own eyes. A world of beaches and blue skies and green lawns, and flowers and trees and kids riding bikes, and people walking dogs and babies, and couples holding hands and birds and butterflies and soft air and warm nights.
My granddaughter Megan, who is 12, looked up at the night sky last week, a cloudless Cape Cod sky studded with stars. And this city girl, who calls Manhattan home, asked her father, “Are all those stars real?”
That’s what August demands. A child’s attention. And a child’s wonder.
Ice cream for breakfast. A drive to the beach. That’s how we will celebrate Top of the Ferris Wheel this Aug. 1. Or maybe we will go to a movie. Whatever Aug. 1 brings will be perfect.Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.