Here comes summer.
Spring was late to arrive but then, one morning, oak leaves fluttered, lawns turned green, azalea blushed. Daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, rhodies — all reported for duty.
Mostly, we plant hostas — lots of them — because just about anyone can keep them alive.
They ask for nothing — water, sunlight, fertilizer. They are dutiful, uncomplaining, constant — in other words, all you prayed to various gods your children would turn out to be.
I am attached to the hostas — solid color and zebra stripes — and am tempted to give them pet names, but that sounds like the sort of thing that could work against you at the nursing home intake interview.
“Now, let’s see, at one point you began naming garden plants, isn’t that the case?”
“Larry, Moe and Curly, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but —"
“Huey, Dewey and Louie. Quite the crowd.”
“Ralph, Alice, Norton and Trixie — ‘Honeymooners’ fan, are we? — and, aha, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, too.”
Under pressure, I seal my fate. “All right,” I cry. “Kukla, Fran and Ollie, if you really want to know. “Frankie Lymon and all the Teenagers.”
The intake person whispers to my wife. “I really don’t think this is the right place for him.”
Yes, as the nameless hostas attest, it is late spring in the burbs — or “the country,” to quote my son, who lives in Queens.
It’s a joke — Long Island is not Idaho or Indiana — aimed at reminding me how easy we have it out here, far from the noise and the crowds and alternate side of the street parking.
My son knows I’m not by nature a suburbanite, but this is where my wife and I landed years ago, and I won’t complain. As the world outside our windows bursts with color and the fancy boats and Sea-Doos return to the harbor and men with no socks inquire about a table at the pricey restaurant downtown, I think, gee, isn’t this something, this is home — and probably will be for keeps.
From our little cottage, our precious and privileged perch, the world seems to me an astonishing place, blessed with beauty and well-being. A neighbor is having her lawn manicured, again. Another prepares for the new season of stand-up paddleboarding. Across the water folks in the big house have finished building their dock, long and with lights to guide them to shore at night.
There is plenty of hardship in the burbs, too, though it can be easy to forget. A friend who volunteers at the food pantry says groceries vanish immediately and that, often, shelves are bare. People show up at the local mission church for secondhand clothes. At the filling station, a woman in an outrageous wig begs for change and is shooed away. She retreats. Speaks to herself. Moves on.
The rest of us are lucky. We may worry about health, or our retirement accounts or even the fate of the world in tense times, but we have all we need and more. Our cars run, we can afford the gas despite crazy prices, we won’t be asking strangers for loose change.
We’re charmed suburbanites, you might say, and especially so in this glorious season when the world opens wide.
I didn’t expect so much, to tell the truth. My parents were regular Joes — truck driver and a pool secretary — and lived on a narrow margin. Could have fooled me. Out our third-floor window, I saw trolley tracks and power lines. I thought it was marvelous. Who needed more?
Once, in late June, I went with church kids across the Narrows by ferry to Clove Lakes Park in Staten Island — overseas adventure. Someone brought a portable radio. The Penguins sang “Earth Angel,” and Perez “Prez” Prado and his orchestra played a mambo, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Toy sailboats leaned into the breeze.
We were teenagers, boys and girls, working-class kids, lovesick, swept away, dreaming of the unsupervised activities that might take place when evening fell and adults were busy talking.
Soon it will be summer again. I’m at ease in what my son calls “the country.” Long Island is grand this time of year. On a sweet day long ago, Staten Island was, too.