The friends of summer

One finds them again - in the main street holding a kind of informal reception, at the intermission of a concert, at a party or a picnic - the friends one is glad to see and has not seen since their departure last autumn. A particular joy of coming early in the season to a summer island is that one constitutes a welcoming committee of sorts. Or, to change the metaphor, one is the old boy in a school where almost everyone else is new. One is browned and they are pale. One is the possessor of local gossip and they are as innocent as newborn babes.

These reappearing friends are not the less affectionately held because of a ten-month lapse. It is perhaps their living in another city which has accounted for one's not seeing them. They may travel while you stay at home, or fly south while you survive a Northern winter. More subtle a cause: they belong to your island, are part and parcel of it, like the cormorants or the plovers. They may be compared to one of the dolphins following our little sailboat and playing in the cold sea of a summer afternoon. You love the dolphin dearly. But in the busy , noisy metropolis you forget to invite him to your table.

A nice thing about these summer friends is that they don't change at all from season to season. It might be supposed that seeing a man or woman after the passing of a long winter, hedged by an autumn and a spring, one would somehow see a different person. The trials and pleasures of life affect us all, and I have heard that biologically we reconstitute our cells and even our bones, so that in fact we are a new being after the passing of a certain number of months or years. But these friends appear immune to the transitory events of life and to the deeper processes of bodily change.

Those who are young return with their enthusiasm undiminished, with their full radiance intact. The old have not aged a whit. They are as stalwart as our Maine rocks and ledges. If the weather has worn them down or altered their form, it has been done imperceptibly, and left them only slightly the more jagged, or perhaps the more rounded and accommodating.

They are the same friends, I am inclined to think, that reappear annually in every summer place. They are recognizable to anyone who may journey to a beach or mountain, or find refreshment on some other island than my own. Here is the bright spirit whose flowered frocks light up the landscape; no gardener herself, she makes a garden of colors and fragrances wherever she passes. She will tell you of happy visits in tropical scenes, yet now adjusts to our fogs and drizzles as if they were cooling showers after an eon of fair days. Here is the lady of a certain age - very certain, one might say, for it is rumored she has passed ninety. You would suppose that at such an extreme verge of life some diminishment might be expected. Not at all. She is as indomitable as she must have been in her youth. Her eye misses nothing, and her astute observations contain a liberal dosage of sea-salt.

The men are the same men, too. Do we not all find returning, summer after summer, in all climes and places, the dedicated swimmer, the determined sailor, the tennis player whose swift bounds no years curtail? Their talk is of journeys to Egypt or Taiwan, but wherever they have gone they seem to have been waiting for this day when they take up their favorite pursuit undistracted. Such a one I could describe more particularly, but it is unnecessary to do so. He is a type fondly known. Besides, he might take offense at being singled out as the very exemplar of the tribe.

For constancy in friendship there is much to be said, and I would not argue just for the sake of argument that one should see one's acquaintances only at intervals. But ever since the beginning of our era when Sextus Propertius noted that absence makes the heart grow fonder (''Semper in absentes felicior aestus amentes''), there have been those who favored a certain irregularity in contacts with friends. To send them letters now and then is not to be discouraged, and a card at Christmas can be a wonderful restorer of the broken web. In the crisscrossings of life, moreover, unexpected meetings occur. Sometimes when least expected the friend of summer turns up, half unrecognized in novel surroundings.

Yet for the most part I confess to liking these special people in the place and in the season where they are most familiar. I rejoice sincerely when I see them again at the start of summer. I am crestfallen when they suddenly disappear. If they were to accompany me on my own journeys or abide with me at home I should undoubtedly be delighted. But meanwhile they have their own chamber in my heart of hearts - the proverbial lamb that is found again, the bird of rare plumage returning from its migrations.

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