Partial to Home: Sounds of summer

June 23, 2018 9:37:10 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Sitting astride his bicycle, his foot on the curb, a man with a small dog was having a conversation with an unseen person on the other side of the street. Though they were a block away, the cyclist's voice reverberated down the street blending with the chorus of katydids, cicadas and crickets. 


It was the summer solstice, and the daylight was almost gone. I believe the solstice(s) and equinoxes connect us with our ancient ancestors and should not be taken for granted, thus my twilight walk. I was headed south on Eighth Street South. 


The cyclist was Spencer Waggoner with his Boston terrier, Tucker. He was talking to John Hawthorne, who is painting a house for Melody Myrick. The house once belonged to a woman, who was a ballerina in New York City. Back home, when her career was over, she returned to Columbus. She would ride a bicycle around town wearing a fur hat and looking like a Russian princess. 


"I need more daylight," John shouted in greeting as I passed. 


"This is as much as you're going to get," I said. "It's the summer solstice." 


John's voice has a lilting, musical quality, not unlike Emilie White's. It would be lovely to hear the two of them in a conversation. Add stringed instruments and you would have a symphony about the South. 


An hour or so earlier, I'd attended a reception for Columbus' new school superintendent, Cherie Labat, at the CVB. By the time I got there, the event was almost over. Someone there said more than 300 well-wishers had shown up. Despite that, the new superintendent and her husband, Myron, seemed fresh and enthusiastic. Both are immediately likeable. 


There is a grace and down-to-earth eloquence about Dr. Labat that inspires confidence. She grew up in Chicago, an athlete. A volleyball scholarship brought her south. No doubt the discipline, psychology and tenacity required of competitive sports will inform her efforts on behalf of our school children and community. 


Somehow I'd drifted over to Seventh Avenue South near its intersection with Fourth Street where the sound of a lawnmower brought me back to the present. A shirtless man was mowing his yard in the near dark.  


It was Larry Brown, a long-time 4-County employee, now retired. He was mowing at the behest of his wife, Linda, who has decorated their chockablock yard with metal butterflies and flamingos, large ceramic turtles and a bottle tree. 


Two blocks back toward town on Fourth, several young people who looked to be in their late 20s were having a spirited conversation on the front steps of a restored cottage on Fifth Avenue. 


East of the house is an obscure alleyway that used to run through the Light and Water Department parking lot (they've put a fence up) and connected Fourth and Fifth avenues. As a kid we used to cut through the alley on our bikes. At some time during summer, the alley would be covered with grasshoppers, many of which succumbed to our bicycle tires. 


Bill Boggess, I think it was, dubbed it Grasshopper Alley, and the name stuck. 


Later that night, back home, I went online in search of a piece of writing about summer I love. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it was the first day of summer; maybe subconsciously because it was written by a young gifted black woman from Chicago, the hometown of our new school superintendent. 


This from Lorraine Hansberry's Broadway play, "To Be Young Gifted and Black." 




Chicago: Southside Summers 


Evenings were spent mainly on the back porches where screen doors slammed in the darkness with those really very special summertime sounds. And, sometimes, when Chicago nights got too steamy, the whole family got into the car and went to the park and slept out in the open on blankets. Those were, of course, the best times of all because the grownups were invariably reminded of having been children in the South and told the best stories then. And it was also cool and sweet to be on the grass and there was usually the scent of freshly cut lemons or melons in the air. And daddy would lie on his back, as fathers must, and explain about how men thought the stars above us came to be and how far away they were. I never did learn to believe that anything could be as far away as that. Especially the stars. 


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.