SUMMER JO LEE
“Season of Warmth, God is Willing”
"At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in it's inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the start of the holidays
or the beginning of Summer.”
In February 2011, on the day my mom was rediagnosed with breast cancer, with a “matter of time” death sentence, I wept on the couch in the night eaves. I can remember true weeping only two or three times in the past half-decade. I don’t cry easily or often. But that night I wept. To distract myself I started scrolling through Pinterest and in my feed was a baby mobile my mom had pinned a few days before. The caption said “I will be making this for my granddaughter. Someday.”
Though we “missed” some parts of newlywed life by having Rowdy so quickly, what we gained I wouldn’t trade for anything — even a few more months or years of “just the two of us.” One of the best parts of getting pregnant six weeks after our wedding was that I was able to share motherhood with my mom for half a year. I’ll never get to do that again, and none of my siblings will ever have that experience in their whole lives. Six precious months of asking advice, of being three living generations, of enjoying a baby boy together, of sharing in “the big stuff” of life.
Before she died she and I worked together to make sure all the children had letters from her for important dates in their life. But she was going to take care of my letters herself. She ended up passing much faster than we all expected and she never finished my letter. She did start it, however. And in that one paragraph, written in pen in her handwriting, she told me how much she’s loved me my whole life. She told me that watching me give birth and become a mother was a highlight of her life, and that she was so proud of me. And she said she would be cheering me on, wishing she could be by my side, when I have other children.
Growing up in and near The Golden State, mom spent summers camping in Yosemite, swimming in Lake Tahoe, running through her grandparent’s peach orchards, tanning at the pool, playing neighborhood games until well after dark, and visiting some of the world’s best beaches. She grew up barefoot and prided herself in developing “calloused feet” so she could walk on the black pavement without it hurting. Her hair turned white in the sun and freckles popped up around her nose. As a grown woman and mother, her love of summer perhaps only increased. She loved to sit on the sidelines of soccer and baseball games with her sleeves rolled up and shoes off. For most of my childhood, between June and August, I remember leaving the house around lunchtime and coming home around dinnertime after spending the entire afternoon at the pool. Mom had a “pool bag” of magazines and homeschool planning and bills, but she mostly just carried it back and forth. She never really got things done she felt like she should. Instead she chatted with us and the other pool moms, or just sat in the sunny silence with her feet hanging in the water. Our family vacations were always centered around Disney or getting to a beach, and no one in their right mind goes to Disney in the summer, so we always found ourselves near the water. Rehoboth Beach, Virginia Beach, Myrtle Beach, The Outer Banks, Kiawah Island, Aruba and Costa Rica, La Jolla, Coronado Beach, Lake Tahoe. Sandcastles and driftwood forts and mermaid contests and crab hunting and boogie boarding and tanning and going for walks to the snack bar and sand in our hair and ears and toenails.
My dad didn’t grow up visiting the beach, doesn’t know how to swim, is a bit paranoid about sharks, and doesn’t like being hot (he’s the guy who opens the windows when it’s snowing outside for “fresh air.”) But even he grew to love being at the beach, thanks to mom’s insistence that their family spend time there. His favorite time is first thing in the morning. On vacation he wakes up early with whichever kids are up, gets coffee, and strolls the empty shoreline while the white noise of waves and clear morning sunlight casts a spell.
We lived in San Diego for 15 months and mom said it felt like a 15 month vacation. “Reality” never hit. More often than I can count, and certainly more than she reported to the homeschool supervisor, we would take off to the beach for the afternoon. “Just because we can,” she’d say. When they moved to Florida in 2010 she found herself with the same motto.
Mom shaped the magic of summer for me. Sunshine, blue skies, hot air, late nights, fresh food, cold desserts, no school, special trips, lots of water, chlorine, sand, blackened feet, berry picking, naturally highlighted hair, activity, excitement. She made summer feel and be the highlight of the year, where everything was happiest. We had the most fun as a family during those sunny months, and it was obvious that mom’s soul was at it’s best.
Caleb and I were born in August, and we married in August too. We fell in love in the summer, somewhere between frozen yogurt walks and the county fair, and grill dinners on the deck, and 3 am. Our first child was born the first month of summer, and last summer, the day after we officially decided to have Caleb change career paths, there was a plus sign on a pink and white stick letting us know about a new little one.
“All in all, it was a never to be forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams
Suzanne Lee is the wonderful woman Summer Lee was named to honor and remember, highlighting the best parts of the golden days of our conflicted lives. The grandmother in Summerland she will meet. Someday.
“In those days, and at the right time, I will restore the fortunes taken from you.” Joel 3:1
While Caleb and I were dating we talked about names we both liked. The name “Jolee” was mentioned, and we were both convinced one of our daughters must have it in honor of her uncle. Caleb’s brother, Joel Caleb, went to the Summerland when he was only three years old. He’s the sunshine boy that was taken. Talking through the details of his memories of Joel’s cancer battle, Caleb cried in front of me for the first time. Caleb spent many nights walking around with his twin brother, Daniel, while they each had a baby twin for “the twilight shift.” They paced and bounced and loved their little brothers. It was clear very quickly, I’m told, that Joel was just full of spunk. He was silly and energetic and known for his bright personality. He had a big round head of blonde hair, and full bread roll cheeks. As parents, he comes to mind on a nearly daily basis. “Life is so precious. Loss is so horrid.” Joel has given both of us an especial awareness of how good it is to have our children, and to spend as much time and energy and mental space enjoying their presence, their aliveness. He’s a reminder to sing songs loud, to laugh easily, and to be a little weird. He’s yellow and shining. “God is willing. He will restore. All will end well. The best is yet to come.”
Neatly enough, Joel and Caleb’s mom is another “summer adorer.” And Caleb has similar memories of the happiness of his household during the sunny months. Everyone coming alive, working in the garden, spending hours upon hours outdoors, volleyball games, state fairs, tan bodies, easy spirits, lake days at Paps’ house, red dirt sweat, climbing trees, homemade iced tea. There is something undeniable and sown into our hearts about the hope, light, and goodness of the summer months. And there is something “full of weight” to miss, love, and learn from two dear ones gone ahead. We pray our Summer Jo Lee is as carefree, full of light, and happy as Joel, and is as peaceful, strong, and warm as her grandmother.
“O the bliss of life eternal!
O the long unbroken rest!
In the golden fields of pleasure,
In the region of the blest;
But, to see our dear Redeemer,
And before His throne to fall,
There to bear His gracious welcome,
Will be sweeter far than all.
On the banks beyond the river
We shall meet, no more to sever;
In the bright, the bright forever,
In the summer land of song.”
Ps. As a special added note, the midwife who oversaw Summer’s birth is named Jo. The entire experience of getting to deliver her at my “dream” birth center, with the experience I was craving in my heart, is such an answer to prayer and joy to me. But I’ll have to share that whole story another time…