George Gershwin’s 1934 lyric, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy; Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high,” helped create the notion that time, and life, should slow down in summer. He augmented the easy, relaxed-living illusion with, “I got plenty o’ nuttin,’ and nuttin’s plenty for me.” Both hits were part of his 1935 Broadway production, “Porgy and Bess.”
Life during the Great Depression was anything but easy. Almost everybody had plenty of nothing. As I have heard the stories, time dragged on. Living didn’t go so easy for Mr. Gershwin either. He died of a brain tumor in 1937 at the young age of 38.
That brings me to the idea of time. Modern summers seem more like racetracks than porch couches. There never is enough time. At the end of summer many wonder, sometimes out loud, where the time went. Time is the fourth dimension. It’s as much for measuring activity as a yardstick is for length, width and height. Webster defines time as, “the measured, or measurable, period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues.”
Expecting summer months to contain more time for leisure is like expecting your elastic yardstick to stretch your house into a bigger one — with the same taxes and utilities of course. It won’t, and neither will the clock or the calendar. Time measures the movement of a dynamic, precise universe, which doesn’t show signs of slowing or stopping. Time is relentless. It can become a tyrant.
Come to think of it, we measure much more frequently with clocks than we do with yardsticks. Almost everyone carries a watch, or a phone with a clock, at all times — no pun intended. In our harried lives, we watch those timepieces constantly. Our schedules are tightly packed. We expect others to be on time and strive to do so ourselves. Clocks are everywhere — on the stove, the microwave, in the car and on street signs. Some even hang on walls. All push us along to planned activities.
It wasn’t always this way. Before steamships and railroads, time keeping was a local activity driven by the position of the sun. High noon depended on place — whatever town or neighborhood you were in. Around 1883, railroad companies developed time zones so departures and arrivals could be planned and understood. It wasn’t until 1918 that Congress established the time zones in use today.
Several futurists have proposed a worldwide Coordinated Universal Time. All the world would be on the same time. Airlines, stock and commodity exchanges and the space station already use universal time. With it, people of the world could coordinate their activities even better, and make themselves even busier. But what about summertime? Slowing down for a season is worth a try.
Long ago, when I was just a boy, an old farmer — he must have been at least 40 — interrupted his conversation with my dad, pointed his finger at me and told me that I should learn to deal with time.
“Memorize,” he said, “the days and years of people you meet, events and places you go, and you won’t ask, ‘Where did the time go?,’ you’ll know. You are young. You can do this!” I did. It works. Now, I wish I had kept a journal to remember even more.
Slowing down and savoring moments makes life easier to remember. Written notes and calendars help too. Start planning now for a great summer next year. I can’t promise easy living, but I can promise that a trip to YouTube to listen to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sing Gershwin’s “Summertime” will put you in the mood.
George Schneidermann lives in Rock Rapids. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.