By: James F. O’Neil
“What I Did Last Summer”
BETHESDA, OH: Chautauqua Days** are over for this year. The hot dogs are eaten; vendors have packed up their woodcarvings, and the quilts that went unsold. Homemade candles sold out; the trophies for the fishing contest now sit on a shelf in some lucky child’s bedroom or in the living room.
The Cottage Tour in Epworth Park in Bethesda brought visitors from the area and from a distance, excited to view owners’ renovations and decor, especially those cottages being put into their original turn-of-the-century style. The park, since 1878, has been the site for vacationers and summer visitors–in addition to the festivities associated with the Chautauqua Movement.
And for nine summers I have been a partaker of cool Ohio weather, over-bearing heat, summer thunder storms, lake stillness, fireflies (who seem to appear on time on clear evenings at 8:20), hummingbirds, poison ivy, ducks and Canada geese, non-air conditioned sleeping, candlelight suppers, mosquitos, on-the-porch Happy Hours, Saturday weddings in the open-air steel-roofed Auditorium (read “Chapel” that seats over three hundred), community pot-luck suppers (the community of 100 original cottages now numbers 66) for those owners and guests who remain after mid-July–and, the Bluegrass concerts, with much pickin’ and grinning’ taking place on stage.
What summers I have experienced here–as an adult.
If one were to ask me, “Think of your favorite place,” I return to Epworth Park and onto my cottage swing.
My Favorite Place provides me calm and recollected-ness. And the swing allows me the opportunity to remember good summer times, those real mid-summers of July (long after the “cruelest month” of April). I become the child in me. The swing does that. The Park does that. Chautauqua Days do that: bring so many memories that remain over time. (But, of course, there were those bad summer days, too: sunburns, injuries, working days while in high school, automobile problems, unrequited loves).
Rainbow Beach in Chicago: endless sand, hot dogs, and forever swimming. Pullman Park Pool: everlasting swimming (indoors).
Sister Lakes, Michigan: family, and friendships–and swimming (where I did first learn to swim, being able to make it to the oil-barrel raft away from our cottage shore).
Boy Scout Camp: swimming and crafts and…outdoor “plumbing” (ugh!).
Summers with my sister’s boyfriends–and their hot cars (especially that ’57 Merc convertible).
O’Neil Picnics, 3rd Sunday in July (of course), rain or shine, with hot dogs and KFC and kids and aunts and uncles, train rides, and swimming (and crossing the train trestle over the Fox River in Pottawatomie Park: “Double-dare ya’!” Stand by Me in reality?).
Garfield Boulevard and Halstead with its parkway, cool evenings, motorcycle Park Police, everlasting softball games).
Then, suddenly, it seems, I was no longer a child–“and now I have put away the childish things” (Paul. 1 Cor. 13.11).
No, Saint Paul, I cannot do it: The child in me is alive, comes alive, while I sit on my swing, while I walk through the Park. And though I no longer put fireflies into Mason jars with bits of grass and leaves (how childish?), I watch the glow-bugs alive, throughout the trees, with a few “high-fliers” sometimes three stories above my cottage porch.
Chautauqua Summer will soon end. The Park will soon become quiet as closing time approaches November 1st. I will leave soon. However, I will have another Chautauqua Summer captured, placed within my memory jar filled with Everlasting Summers.
**Chautauqua [shu-TAW-kwuh]: a movement which flourished in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including assemblies (sometimes religious), educational lectures, concerts, entertainments, and, unfortunately, no hot dogs! [See The Chautauqua Institution of Western New York; Chautauqua Lake, in New York.]
BTW: Rick Atkinson writes in his An Army at Dawn that “[Gen. Mark] Clark, as a young captain between the world wars had been detailed to a Chautauqua tour, spreading the gospel of Army life . . . .”
© James F. O’Neil 2013