My favorite holiday isn’t a holiday. Yet. But give it time. August is the only month in which there is no national celebration, no reason to pause or give thanks or remember. And shouldn’t there be? Isn’t August, even by definition, grand and majestic and impressive? Doesn’t it deserve to be honored? Plus, don’t we love holidays, especially the ones where no gift-giving is required?
Decades ago, when my kids were small, one of them brought home Natalie Babbitt’s children’s novel, “Tuck Everlasting,” and we read this book and these opening sentences together:
“The first week of August hangs at the very top of the summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.”
Maybe that long-ago day when we first discovered “Tuck Everlasting” was motionless and hot. Maybe we had just come back from Paragon Park full of ice cream and cotton candy, sand still between our toes, ready for the affirmation that August is the best month of the year. Maybe, just like in the book, we felt on top of the world and suspended in time. Or maybe it was late August and we were huddled on the couch, night encroaching, feeling, grudgingly, the first hint of fall.
For whatever reason, Natalie Babbitt’s words not only stirred us. They stuck with us. And every August after, for years and years, we read them again. And for nearly four decades, every Aug. 1, we have celebrated “Top of the Ferris Wheel Day.”
It’s not a big celebration. Sometimes it’s as simple as eating donuts for breakfast or ice cream for lunch or taking the day off and heading for the beach. Sometimes it’s just slowing down enough to notice the lushness everywhere, the deep, rich green of the trees, the clusters of flowers in so many gardens, the way the sunlight slants and shimmers in late afternoon. Sometimes it’s just the acknowledgement that this is it. That the ride has reached its peak.
We text our friends (in the old days we called) to wish them a happy Top of the Ferris Wheel Day. And they text theirs. My friend Beth routinely stays up until midnight so she can beat me, so that she can text, “See? I remembered first.” A few years ago, Elaine bought us “Top of the Ferris Wheel” shirts, which we now wear to “Top of the Ferris Wheel” night, a cabaret of summer songs played and sung by the very talented Brian Patton on the first Wednesday of August at the Napoleon Room in Boston. Maureen makes “Top of the Ferris Wheel” cakes. Anne sends her friends “Top of the Ferris Wheel” cards. Hallmark has not caught on to any of this yet, but I’m betting it will.
Because the first week of August is a sea change. Everything changes next week. It’s back to school, off to college, new job, new plans, packing, prepping, time speeding up, our heads, if not our bodies, already in fall mindset.
So this is it, the apex.
And yet. The ride has been disappointing this year. There have been too many stops. Too little sun. Too much rain. Sweaters and socks in July. No balmy spring and too few steamy days.
“The first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color,” Natalie Babbitt wrote.
Motionless and hot. I’m hoping for a few of these days. I’m hoping Babbitt was prescient and not just observant. That Top of the Ferris Wheel Day will be followed by a week full of “white dawns” and “glaring noons” that we will remember long into the fall.
Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.