Life

Nuala McCann: Summer memories shimmer in the heat

Summer has breezed onto our street. It's as if someone hauled open a furnace door. The sound of ol' Blue Eyes singing The Summer Wind drifts from an open window. On up the street, a child is practising piano scales. And with every plink, on every corner, a memory springs fresh...

Summer has arrived and brought a wave of nostalgia with it

THERE at the hedge wielding a set of old-fashioned clippers is my father, his sleeves rolled up, chatting to a neighbour in the gentle glow of evening.

On her knees, on that patch of lawn is my mother, lost among the roses, the camellias, her favourite peony rose, Bowl of Beauty.

Up ahead is my husband as he was 20 years ago – a two-year-old perched on his shoulders as they head round to Owen's shop for a Postman Pat comic and a packet of Milky Way stars. Owen has long since headed to warmer climes.

And the plastic skeleton with goggle eyes, a heart, a liver, a stomach .... bought, one comic and one bone at a time, still lives in our attic. He cannot bear to throw it out.

On the corner, I surprise the ghost of my younger self, guiding a toddler to the shops. He is a blonde little boy who picks fresh green leaves off the privet hedges, who lingers to chat to a friendly black cat, who asks big questions like "What is the sky?".

There's a stretch in the evenings, the air is soft and the sunset is warm as brandy.

All our fathers' words come back, soft as a lullaby.

There are plenty of memories to be found in the garden this summer

It's the smell of smoke and burnt sausage from hasty barbecues that draws me in. It's the summer staccato of 100 electric hedge clippers; it's the sight of red hot sunburnt flesh parading past the gate.

This summer finds me on my knees in our garden wrenching up weeds and dandelions. It's amazing what you see sauntering past the front gate.

Itsy bitsy shorts; cauliflower knees; Hawaiian shirts that looked great in Hawaii and Fashion Faux Pas Number One: sandals and ankle socks.

Spare us.

Down on my knees at our lawn and wondering how I might get up, I think that it might have been useful to know that some plants are Trojan Horses. Any wise gardener will tell you that mint is wonderful, just confine it to its pot.

If not, it will spread faster than nits in a nursery class.

Once, I admired My Lady's Mantle, a plant that my mother tended. When the raindrops land on the lush green leaves, they gleam like beads of silver. But now, my Lady's Mantle has run rampant through the border, strangling all round her and her eviction has cost me a couple of decent spades.

"I did warn you," sighs my mother.

I'm sorry that I sold a whole heap of the thug at the school fair – there are a lot of people out there cursing me.

Still, when the sun shines, I fall in love with home. We have a full house now as all our birds have had their babies. The little coal tits rise early. In our kitchen, I'm setting up the porridge and they're out on early morning manoeuvres on the washing line, like a set of mini acrobats darting and spinning.

Next, the robins – we have a pair of them and they would sit on our heads, if we let them.

The blackbird is an old friend. We protected him when he was a baby and fell from the nest. He got so tame that he'd sit on the windowsill, look in at us, head cocked, just saying "hi".

Now he has a wife and a family of his own at the top of our rowan tree.

And then there are our woodpigeons. It feels like that pair have been here as long as us. Year after year, Spring found the two of them, fat 'n' happy, hanging out on their own particular branch on the tree out our back.

This year, there is just one solitary woodpigeon, strangely displaced, out of sorts – alone.

Those thieving magpies have chased her from her branch, but she's going nowhere. She hangs around, sitting on the fence, perching on the kitchen roof, waiting, just waiting for that old someone special who shared their branch.

And for every beautiful summer memory, there is an edge of sorrow – for times past, for those we loved who are not coming back, bittersweet memories that pierce the heart.

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