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What I Really Know About Summer Nights: Learning From the Family Next Door

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Below, reader Connie Shakalis of Huntington Station, N.Y., shares what she really knows about summer nights. 

I am one of a family of four—a quiet, serene, loves-to-read family from the Midwest. When I was growing up, summer nights meant air-conditioned rooms, television shows and popcorn. Today, summer nights mean warm, fragrant salt-saturated air from the Atlantic Ocean and laughter from the seven children who live next door.

“I-cree man! I-cree man!” announces our two-year-old neighbor at the br-r-r-ing of the Mr. Softee truck. Six sweet tooths scamper truckside; six frozen delicacies appear from the truck window; 12 eager hands carry them up the driveway. Moments later, three mouths are red, two mouths are blue, and one tiny mouth is still licking.

In their backyard, the young, handsome father tosses the five-year-old into the swimming pool, eliciting giggly squeaks from the child. Their beautiful mother passes around the newborn for all to hug, kiss and welcome into the rose-scented world of summer. Next comes music—festive, Latino-style. And more laughter.   

What treasures this love-filled family brings into our lives. We have only two (albeit delightful) dogs. One might think, “Oh, no, a bunch of kids next door!” But the two girls and their five brothers are what summer nights are all about.

Seizing the moments of youth, they savor the outdoors, as they jump on the trampoline, regale each other with ghost stories, and play with our dogs. Spirit, our female, has learned to bring her red ring to the gate and deposit it where it can be reached and thrown ... and thrown ... and thrown. When our neighbors appeared seven years ago, their fear of all things canine was obvious; today dog loves child, and child loves dog.  

What could be cozier, sweeter or more summery than watching wonderful kids play with wonderful dogs, eat ice cream and swim to guitar music on a night in July. They know what summer nights are all about, and now so do I.


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