While the seasons may whirl around like June bugs, memories remain.

By Rick Bragg
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Two young boys head home after fishing, ca. 1950.
Credit: Kirn Vintage Stock/Getty Images

A friend once told me, with all the Southern melancholy he could muster, that he could count the good summers he has left.

He said this while reeling in a red snapper 10 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, so I didn’t, in that moment, feel any great sympathy. I can also count the summers I have left. If it’s a race to the setting of that last, splendid summer sun, I hope he wins by a mile.

I remember this season better, for some reason. It lasts forever here, so there is more room in our recollection to wander. The good days sift through my mind like mosquitoes through a screened door.

I remember catching June bugs and can still see the odd, vague, purple or bluish shine in that brittle black shell. I recall carefully tying a long thread to one of their legs and then turning them loose to fly around my head. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d invented the drone. I’d reel it in when I was bored, and (because my heart was still soft) I’d gently untie it and let it go. I don’t know if bugs think much, but I hoped it thought I was a good guy for doing that. It likely just flew off, cussing, because I’d lassoed it in the first place.

I remember bare feet on hot asphalt and watching kids try to run across the parking lot of the A&P market without actually touching down. Year after year, we never got any smarter, until one day, a thought exploded in my head: In the land of the barefoot, the one with a pair of dime-store flip-flops was king.

“I need some flip-flops,” I told Mama.

“Well,” she said, watching me dance on hot tar, “I reckon so.”

I also remember scoops of black walnut and butter pecan ice cream packed in a cone by a one-legged man named Tillison at a tiny country store.

“What’s his first name?” I asked my mother.

“Mister,” she answered.

We always went on Saturdays. There were more Saturdays then, at least three a week. On the way home, I’d hang my head out the window of a 1963 Chevrolet and Mama would tell me to for heaven’s sake pull my head back in before a fence post decapitated me or some hard-shelled insect (maybe a June bug with a grudge) put out my eye.

I remember a Suzuki 750 motorcycle and an American flag helmet and blacktop that glimmered ahead of me, a stretch of road that could carry me to the end of the world—or out of it, if I wasn’t careful. I recall going as far as two dollar bills would take me and sheltering under an overpass, the hot engine ticking, as lightning stabbed the ground outside, but I wasn’t scared. You ain’t afraid of much on a Suzuki.

I remember fresh-caught crappie frying in giant skillets and tubs of ice with RC and Double Cola, but no beer because it was a sin to drink in front of the children. I recall cold spots in
the Coosa River, currents I couldn’t see but only feel against my legs.

I remember, just the other day, thinking how I could never count all the summers that have flown by.