In Indianapolis, Memorial Day means The 500. It’s checkered flags and household banners proclaiming, “Welcome race fans!”
But where I live, in Long Beach, Indiana, Memorial Day means that The Season has begun.
The Season is summer. It’s a three-month stretch that lasts until Labor Day. The Season is a routine and a ritual. A lot of people plan their lives — and livelihoods — around it.
The first thing you notice about the Season is that it’s like somebody’s flipped a switch. One day there’s nothing happening; the next day a party’s in full swing.
All of this is thanks to our proximity to the city of Big Shoulders, otherwise known as Chicago. Long Beach has been a playground (some would call it a colony) for Chicagoans since the 1920’s.
That’s my story. My grandparents, who lived in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood, began renting a house here some time around 1950. They came with their friends, Kate and Stephen Turabian (Kate wrote The Student’s Guide to Writing College Term Papers, still in print and once, reputedly, the second bestselling book in history — beaten only by The Bible. It has, alas, fallen by the scholastic wayside, overtaken by the Internet.), as well as my parents and me.
Summer people, we rarely saw the kinds of preparations that took place before our arrival. In the case of our cottage, located back in the woods, this generally entailed a good dusting and plenty of leaf raking.
Down on the beach, though, things were more ambitious. Nowadays, the weeks leading up to Memorial Day are a kind of bulldozer jamboree, as many lakefront homeowners hire earthmovers to flatten the foredunes between their houses and the beach.
These foredunes are nature’s first line of defense against storms and potential flooding. Covered with a lush scalp of marram grass, which catches the wind and reflects golden light at sunsets, the foredunes are also quite beautiful.
But it is hell, apparently, to have to lug your jetski over a foredune to the beach. What’s more, foredunes make it hard to see the lake from the ground floor of a beach house. Since there seems to be an unwritten rule that every window of a beach house must provide the equivalent of a postcard prospect (lest the tenants feel gypped), those offending foredunes have to go.
Of course, by the time Memorial Day rolls around, the lake wind has usually obscured the bulldozer tracks that, up until that time, make the beach look like an industrial site. Perhaps it also blows sand through those windows with their unobstructed views.
In any event, come the beginning of the season, our streets, where wild turkeys once roamed, are taken over by Chicagoans. Walkers, joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders: all manner of locomotion is on display, as are the kinds of body types you get after the dark passage of another Midwestern winter. It’s as though everybody’s been hibernating, only to wake up and find themselves transported to a kind of Riviera.
Hello, summer! Another Season has begun.