Summer Nostalgia

It’s mid summer and as the days are getting shorter, I’m beginning to think towards fall. But every summer since graduating, I always feel like I reminisce about the “good old days” and look back upon my summers in college with a fondness.

I recall all the breaks I ever had from school and how much I cherished my time off. Although I know I’m still young at the age of 27, I truly feel like “youth is wasted on the young.” I didn’t know how good I had it! I was living off of student loans and handouts from my parents, and all the money I was making at any jobs I held went straight into my pocket. I had the best times and a metabolism to die for!

Summers in Eau Claire, WI where I went to college were spent tubing on the huge river that cut through campus. In the winter, that same river made David Letterman’s list of top 10 coldest places on earth. But in the summer, it was magical. Rent a tube, hop on, and spend your afternoon with good friends floating down river. 

During the times I wasn’t on the river I was working any number of odd jobs. I usually worked retail jobs, and one of my favorites was working at Macy’s selling shoes on commission. I was great at it, and the 8% commission I made was nothing to sneeze at. In fact, I would find out in later years that that job paid better than substitute teaching did. Such is life. All the winter shoes in the back room were on the ground level, and all the summer shoes were up a very clunky set of metal stairs with holes in them. Up, down, up, down probably a hundred times a shift, being very careful not to get my heel of my own shoes stuck in one of the holes of the stairs. My calf muscles were amazing back then.

I would get coffee with friends at a cafe called Racy’s in a back alley. It was very “hipster” and it was the place Bon Iver used to play, long before anyone knew who they were. Their lead singer, Justin Vernon, lived on 5th Ave right next door to where I lived. We had many mutual friends, and I think I even chatted with him a few times. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to get an autograph. But the CD I have of theirs was one of the original CDs they had been giving out for free after shows. Skinny Love has always been my favorite song by them.

I used to run the track at the YMCA, which was really ghetto and not even really a track. It was poorly built and narrow and the path went up and down in inconvenient places that made me have to trip unless I was paying very close attention. My favorite part of the gym was how dingy it was. I never felt like I had to dress up or have nice workout clothes because everyone else wore terribly pitted out white t-shirts like the kind you can get in a 5 pack for $10 at Walmart. 10.5 times around the track equaled one mile, and I would try to run at least 33 laps, counting each on my fingers as I went. When I got to two digits, I would keep track of the first digit on my left hand, and the second digit on my right hand. 

When I wasn’t working or tubing on the river, I played the alto saxophone. I worked my butt off and probably my biggest talent when playing the sax was speed. I loved the teacher I had, but she wasn’t any good at jazz. I was mostly a classically trained musician, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I went to school for Music Education, I always really loved the performance aspect and put on a half recital and a full recital during my undergrad. It was very fulfilling and something I thought was my calling at the time.

At college parties, everyone would completely let loose. The music majors had the most fun of anyone. We worked impossibly hard, many of us taking 10-12 classes at once (yes, 10 classes, not credits- many music classes were 1 credit and hours of work) and we played harder. I recall one specific party where everyone, just for fun, hopped in an ice cold shower (fully clothed) just to cool off from the heat of the Wisconsin humidity.

I often look back on my life back then and my life now, and try to draw comparisons. My life five years ago and my life now don’t share many resemblances. Deep down inside I’m still me, but so much has changed. Having graduated, students loans have long since come due, and a professional and permanent job in my field any place I have lived has yet to rear its head. The days of drinking coffee in the back alley shop are long since gone. My carefree days are a distant memory.

Maybe the biggest change I have discovered in myself is the shift from having faith and optimism in the world and myself to feeling somber and dejected. Although I used to feel as though the world were my oyster, and with a little chutzpah I could conquer anything and achieve every life goal, as an adult I know better. Although I was an adult by most peoples’ standards while in college, with a few years of real world wisdom under my belt, I think adults-out-of-college-facing-reality is a more accurate depiction of what a real adult is. Where did my hope go? Where did my self-assurance go?

Five years ago, when one of my roommates didn’t do her dishes, it could wait until tomorrow. Five years ago, if I got rejected by a potential job, I would eagerly apply to more, realizing it was “their loss.” Five years ago, I didn’t really care what the world thought about me. I embraced life with the naivety of a young adult and brushed off the negativity with my head held high. Why is it so hard to be a carefree adult?

This week, I’m going to try to channel myself during summers in Eau Claire, circa 2008. While I love my life and my family, I often wonder why “youth is wasted on the young.” I wouldn’t trade my life today, but I’d love to shake off my newfound uptight, responsible, bill-paying, job-seeking self for a little while and be that girl with not a worry in sight. I’m looking forward to fall, which is just a short month and a half away. It’s always then that I feel like I get a fresh start, and with the change in leaves often comes a change in disposition.

If you could go back to any time in your past, what would you choose? 

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