Summer in the Rye

Because I am a true American original, one of my favorite books is “Catcher in the Rye.” Just a pretty obscure and impenetrably deep novel that I am virtually alone in liking. Sometimes, though, when I hear or read people discussing “Catcher” I feel like I read a completely different book than everyone else, because I’ve never really felt terribly misunderstood by society or regarded every one else in the world as a phony. I know that that’s a phase a lot of teenagers go through, and some of them never grow out of it, a fact of which I am intimately aware because the ones who never grow out of it all end up moving to New York.

If the teenage Kook could have been bothered to spend his time doing anything other than rollerblading around the neighborhood with his shirt off, begging people to drive him to Smith’s to buy Pringles, and glaring at anyone over the age of 18, I think the themes of alienation and phoniness in “Catcher” would have resonated with him. But that wasn’t ever my thing. I actually didn’t come to love the novel until I was in my 20s, when I re-read it shortly after moving to New York. It was on this reading that I noticed – and heavily identified with – two themes that had largely escaped my attention when I first read it as a teenager: 1. The effect that children can have on adults, which I can best describe as the effect that aloe has on a sunburn, and 2. The yearning teenagers and adults sometimes feel for the ease and innocence of childhood.

It’s silly, I suppose, to prop one’s head upon one’s palm and daydream about carefree days long since gone. But it would be untrue for me to claim that it’s not a silliness in which I allow myself to indulge every so often. I hasten to mention that I am very happy with my life. It isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s turned out quite well so far and I have every reason to believe it will continue to do so. It isn’t so much a matter of being unhappy and longing for a time when I was happy as it is having challenges and responsibilities and problems and pining for a time when I didn’t.

Children do have challenges and responsibilities and problems, I guess, but relative to those associated with even the happiest adult life, they kind of don’t. The great tragedy of all of this, of course, is that children don’t know that they their lives are ridiculously easy. Little idiots. I thought my life was hard because I had piano lessons once a week. You know what, though? There was one time a year when even as a kid I was conscious of just how amazing my life was. That time was summer. I didn’t understand it in its glorious fulness, but I did understand it on a basic level.

And what was so great about summer as a kid? Good heavens. Was it the absence of having to do things I didn’t like, or was it the abundance of awesome things that I loved to do? Both. It was both. There are so many things I want to write about this topic – hand fishing, water ballooning, yearbook calling, bird hunting, night walks – but it’s 11:30 PM, and I have to get up and go to work tomorrow. I guess this can be my little kick-off to the next couple of summer-related posts.

There’s a famous part of “Catcher in the Rye” where the protagonist, Holden, describes his desire to save children from growing up, or as he terms it, “go(ing) over the cliff.” “I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

Holden was ultimately wrong, of course. Adulthood, even with its attendant challenges, is necessary and beautiful and ultimately better than childhood. But I know what he means. And every once in a while I find myself wishing I could turn around and scale that cliff and get back to the field of rye. And if I were to somehow succeed in doing this, I would then will it to be summer in the field of rye. And then I would go hand fishing.

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13 Responses to Summer in the Rye

  1. Eliza says:

    Wow that was really beautiful and made me kind of sadly nostalgic. But you’re right the thing about being a kid is that you don’t know how good you have it, you’re totally unaware of how complicated even the simplest pleasures are (i.e. all the work that goes into putting on a star wars birthday party, yeah that’s what I’m doing today) . But that is the amazingly awesome thing about being a parent, you get to relive your childhood but its even better because you see all the complexities, all the work, and how that magic happened and it makes it that much more satisfying and enjoyable. Because you have no expectations for yourself, you just get to glory in your little one’s excitement. I’m struggling to explain it, but basically, parenthood is that second chance at really really loving and soaking up childhood.

  2. Christian says:

    Really great post. One of your best (although not nearly your funniest. What is this blog becoming anyway, the Erastus’ Zinc Tooth Cleaning Powder Presents The Ryan and Davis Weepy Hour? Looks like I need to post some blue dart pictures tomorrow to keep things lively)

    But seriously, very poignant. Being an adult kind of sucks. It turns out all the things we thought would make it worth it (driving these giant, fast go carts called cars, eating all the fast food and junk food we want, being able to go to bed at 3 am every night) were a empty promises sold to us by Big Adult Interests to convince us that growing up was worth it. It wasn’t. Summer between the ages of 8 and 19 IS worth it. It’s the very best thing Earth life has to offer.

    Dolly Parton lied to us in Working Nine to Five, and I curse her soul for that.

  3. Braden says:

    LOL Kook’s comment about the Dave and Ry weepy hour. Very tender post, Dave. Made more so by the fact that I’m looking out the window watching the kids at school get in to their cars and leave. Tomorrow is the last day of school.

    Being around kids literally all day leads me to these reflections a lot. In some ways it is such a great time. But ultimately, I’m really glad I have have my life now.

  4. Ben Pratt says:

    Lol, Christian. The Big Adult lobby is entirely too powerful. IT MUST BE STOPPED!

    Davis, this is hilarious and so, so right. When I was young I loved playing with action figures. Oh man, you don’t even know. Creating the tension and drama was part of the challenge of having a great war. Now, as a parent, I have similarly tiny people around me, but they create tension and drama all by themselves! It’s so awesome.

  5. Ryan says:

    But why do we have to choose? I still don’t think I’ve reconciled with the fact I can’t be a mature adult AND still have the freedom and adventure we used to have. A few moments of paintballing or cliff diving or exploring make me think maybe those sorts of things are what life is really about.

  6. Ferg says:

    Man, I’ve given many hours of thought to the exact same topic. Beautifully written.

    I’ve wondered if the day will come when I’m sitting around at 60 years old and wishing that I had things in my life then that I have now, in my 30s. It’s made me be more aware of the good things I have now, and to try to enjoy them as much as I can while I have the time.

  7. Sherri says:

    Everone always says to us moms: enjoy those little ones while you can! Before you know it they will be grown and gone!
    While I know this is true there are moments or problems in every stage of life and when your there in the middle of them, you usually wish you weren’t. As a mother to small children right now I don’t really know what awaits me when we hit teenagerhood in a couple more years. I’m sure I’ll think back to when my biggest mommy problems where loosing sleep becuase my baby coughed all night. That’s life. The challenges just keep on growing with us, right? Aloe to sunburn. Loved that. Thanks again DDDT.

  8. maweesa says:

    i think i’d rather be in college than a kid… there’s nothing better than having all of the freedoms of being an adult w/out the responsibility…

  9. Ryan says:

    You make an excellent point, Maweeees.

  10. Norm says:

    Being a male, Mormon, college freshman living away from home with your buddies is a magical time of life. Responsibility? Sheah right. The mere notion of responsibility is quickly dismissed with the thought “That can wait until after the mish.” Girls? Sure, why not. You have the perfect excuse. “No, you don’t have to wait for me sweetheart. I have to concentrate on the Lord’s work now…” Choose a career path? That is what generals and PE classes are for. Health? My 18 year old body had no problem with a steady diet of “Chiggers” (Cheeseburgers), mint-chocolate brownies at the Cougar Eat and 3.5 hours of sleep. Little did I know that was the last year my body would accept me treating it like crap…. oh how I miss you Slurpee and 64oz Super Big Gulp…

  11. Davis says:

    Lize, that’s a really good point, and one I had never considered. Made me excited for kids.

    Kook, you’ve been fighting Big Adult Interests your entire life, and I really respect you for that.

    Braden, I can’t think about those kids going off to summer vacation.

    Ben, I can’t wait to have action figures all my own.

    Ryan, we probably don’t have to choose as much as we think we do. In other words, being an adult necessarily entails having less freedom than being a kids does, but the loss of freedom doesn’t have to be as great as we commonly assume.

    Ferg, I think you probably will. I think that’s part of being human. But yes, the lesson is to try to fight that a little bit by appreciating the present.

    Sherri, yes, the challenges do grow with us. It would be nice, though, to go back and get the challenges we had when were little know that we’re big.

    Maweesa, I hadn’t really thought about it, but I agree with you (99%). I think one has more responsibility in college than one does in elementary school, but I think it’s a good trade-off for the freedoms you get as an adult in college.

    Norm, magical, indeed.

  12. Andrea W. says:

    I still kind of experience those feelings we had as kids. I keep saying, “I am soooo ready for school to be out.” and my mom friends keep saying, “yeah, but just think about that for a minute — all the kids home all day.” Yes, having 5 kids home all day presents it’s own challenges, but I’m still just as thrilled as I was when I was 10 that there’s no more homework and no carpools and no teachers dictating my schedule. Freedom!!!!

  13. The line about teenaged Kook is one of my all-time favs. Rollerblading was awesome back in the day, but there was definitely a point at which it turned NOT awesome. I remember a huge group of my friends loading into my BFF’s van in high school to head to the beach on a Saturday morning, and watching as a poor unsuspecting teenaged neighbor boy turned a corner and had no where to go but straight at us on rollerblades. Just out for a fun roll. He was so embarrassed, and we for him. Anyways, I will be chuckling about the Pringles comment for a long time.

    Loving the combo of straight up hilariousness with deep discussions here on dddt these days. I agree with Eliza that it’s definitely fun to be a parent and experience the same things you remember loving as a child through a parent’s eyes. I used to think the school year lasted a year and that summer lasted a year. A year of total bliss. I guess I wasn’t the smartest kid. I do hate knowing that in the blink of an eye I’m going to be like 82 and hardly know where the time went.

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