Do you have a favorite day? One that stands out in Technicolor among a fistful of gray memories? I sure do.
It’s a summer afternoon in New Jersey. I’m eighteen and I’m floating in a black inner tube on a pond fringed with willow trees and bordered by stones. A friend is reading stories by S.J. Perelman to our group.
Everyone there is a bit older than me, including the boy who invited me to this gathering, a boy I’d had my eye on for ages. Two of the floaters have a famous last name, thanks to their father who runs an opinion poll. Our host has a name associated with old money, which might account for the beauty of his family estate.
At the crest of a gentle hill stands a field stone house, half hidden by dogwood trees and flanked by gardens and a tennis court.
The pond where we are floating is fed by a natural spring and has become the family pool. Sun slants through the willows, making bright patterns on the brown water. An occasional turtle nibbles our toes which causes much merriment, partly fueled by the beer we are drinking.
S.J. Perelman’s wit seems perfectly matched to the lazy summer day. The guy reading the stories to us would go on to be an expert on nomad tribes in Morocco, but on this day he’s just a fellow with a great voice, a pot belly and no girlfriend.
The rubber inner tubes rotate slowly. Bright beams shining through willows freckle the skin on my arm and I think how glad I am that Charlie invited me. I smile at him and then at his brother who is floating nearby.
Across our university town, Einstein is worrying about the hydrogen bomb and down in Washington D.C., Joe McCarthy is stirring up a poisonous mess, but I am not thinking about those things. In the fall I’ll be leaving for college, but that isn’t on my mind either. I am simply basking in the here and now.
Change will soon come to all of us. Some already have jobs. One is engaged to be married. Possibly nobody will be able to idle away fistfuls of summer hours like this in the future. Maybe we will never again be quite so carefree.
It might be more impressive if my happiest day was one when I won the Nobel Prize, but I never was much good at science, nor at competition for that matter.
I was extremely happy on my wedding day (to the same fellow who invited me to the pond party) but my Merry Widow waist cincher was cutting me in half.
I was ecstatic the day I held my first son, but also consumed by worry about whether I was up to the job of motherhood. That day of floating in the pond may have been the last time I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Things never stay the same. That house where we floated in the pond has been sold; the group scattered and some are gone. But the memory of that happy afternoon remains bright and untarnished
And what about you?
Can you put a finger on a time of pure delight? Was it for an accomplishment, or a dream come true?
Or like me, do you just remember one day when everything seemed to be just right?