MANN TALK: The Romance of Summer

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann

 January is a good time to remember June and July and August. But to an out-doors-man,  January hasn’t much to offer,  except to  those who like to be towed uphill so they can slide  downhill until weary and then can  warm themselves before a monster of a  fireplace in a castle in the Alps with all modern amenities available.  


 Summer began for me always when school  let  out in May and ended when I had to return in September. Fortunately, I never had to spend a summer of my youth in the city; for summer in the city for me was worse than being a  caged animal in a zoo. As soon as school was out,  I began talking my parents  into giving me $1.92 so that I could walk across the Southside bridge in Charleston, buy a ticket to Hinton and catch the C&O’s Fast Flying Virginia.


Anticipation scorned patience  as the FFV steamed and clicked its way to Montgomery, Thurmon,  Prince and finally Hinton, which destination I could joyously  see sitting on the hillside as the train rounded a great curve in the New River.  No one met me. I had relatives and I begged a ride to my grandfather’s farm, where I would receive an effusive and loving reception from my grandparents and aunt and my dog. I was home.

Summer on the farm, with its fields and woods,   springs and creeks,  all canopied by the sky and its ever changing patterns of  clouds,  the sun’s risings  and  settings, the moon and stars  undimmed by  human illumination,  the beasts and birds and all life, domestic and wild---was the place  for me and still is, even though then it meant work, sweat, blisters,  aches and stings daily. But also rest, feasts, fellowship and sleep and the inarticulate consciousness of having done what was needed. 


If planting was late, I would soon  be dropping corn in hills on a cultivated and laid off field. I see those three or four seeds nestled in the hill now, see my granddad follow behind with hoe to  cover them, and recall  rejoicing   a few days later  at the sight of rows of green spirals peeping  through the hills, watching  the plants leaf,  plowing  them, hoeing  them, noting  their maturity into  tassels and silks, and enjoying  in some manner and recipe  the grain in the ear. Summer nurtures spring’s  promiscuous  as well as its planned progeny without any stigma disfavoring the former. And a plowed and hoed cornfield greened from rain and sun, from the perspective of the  farmer,  is a poem in being.

With the corn underway,  granddad’s  attention became focused on the hay fields and his focus was my focus, willy nilly. Hay harvest began with scythe or horse-drawn mowing machine depending on the lay  of the land. Scything was sheer drudgery, although at the end of the day one could mark it down that it  was not misspent.  But  mowing by machine was high romance to an imaginative youth. I would sit on the machine’s seat with reins in hand, lower the sickle bar,  giddap the horses and watch the  grass quiver and fall as if a machine gun had cut down an army of  enemies. In the next moment, I would be in Rome in a chariot race in the stretch with some plebian competitor and would  nose him out at the finish, Hollywood style.

Wheat was next.  At twelve my granddad certified me as an accomplished handler of a wheat cradle,  a distinction  that elevated me to a position,  in  relation    to those who followed behind and tied bundles,   that   was kindred to that of   a knight,  in  relation  to  the  pages who assisted him   to don his   armor  for combat for the hand of a Guinevere. A wheat field  yellowed and  grained was, when playing with the wind, another poem and when cut and just stubble and shocks  was a scene of pride of product. .

The coming of the harvesting machine was the height of excitement in August--- just above the first harvest of roasting ears. The machine operators  sent out a schedule of their arrival at each farm in the neighborhood. Thus, it was determined where the machine  would arrive at noon and thus where the midday meal was to be prepared and eaten. That location became the focal point of the whole area. All the wives  of the husbands of the farms served by the thrashers concentrated early at the favored  farmhouse to prepare the meal.  And such a meal no Roman Emperor or Medieval King or Epicurean of any century sat down to and enjoyed with  more gustatory passion  and  glorious satisfaction  than that meal in that modest cottage. Pleasure is directly proportional to the effort that precedes it. Those men and women who garnered the grain received a memorable  dividend from their efforts at that noon day feast.   

In summer the forests of the  mountains budded into foliage of  many  shades of green and each leaf was a photosynthetic factory in which it   inhaled what man exhaled and exhaled what man inhaled and collected and canned the sun  for the use of its host for another day, but also for those who harvested the host for  their  own purposes. Aside from this miraculous   symbiosis that was essential to the leaf and to man,  there was the beauty of mountain forests newly  and fully leafed  tenting in coolness  all the species that sought  relief  from the  extremes of summer’s  sun.

 All evenings on the farm, after milking and supper, ended on the long  porch that faced west. There sat grandmother in a split bottom  with her hair down and parted for combing and brushing, granddad sat  planning and musing,  my aunt was there with her  hands at work at something and I looked into the west and  dreamed of having the fly pole I had spotted in Sears---as the sun in full splendor gilded our faces  and  slowly sank below the horizon ending another day. Such is in retrospect the Romance of  Summer that  helps  alleviate for me   today’s reality  everywhere, and the snow at my doorstep.  

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Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.