Grapes of Wrath


“What should our theme be this year?” John asked me on one of the first warm days that we were able to sit outside and have a drink on the porch.

Every year, we have a sort-of theme for the summer. It started out just being a theme for the porch. One year it was Hemingway and we sat outside and read books and wrote down our thoughts and drank whiskey in excess. That was a fun summer, but not so much productive or kid-friendly.

Then the year I started working at the university, John created “Summer Fun” with the kids, taking them on daily adventures and…oh, you’ve seen the Facebook posts. So the two ideas sort of blended together over the years and that’s why when John asked, “What should our theme be this year?” I knew what he meant.

Summer themes aren’t meant to be followed religiously. It’s all in the fun of finding ways to fit everyday life into the theme. And the themes seem to just sort of happen. One day in May, I was researching an article and I came across this old saying from the 1930s: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” About five seconds after I saved a screenshot, Cate announced, “I need my own laptop.” Sure you do. 

“Our theme should be The Great Depression,” I told John, later, back on the porch. “You know, like Grapes of Wrath style.”

John added his idea of visiting every city park in Lexington as our Summer Fun. “And we’ll make lemonade and put cut flowers from the yard all over the house, and sew patches on things and grow our own food. And no one is buying anything new!” I was getting excited. (Just wait until the year I talk him into “Little House on the Prairie” theme.)

Anyway, our theme fit perfectly with my 1930s adage. I promptly wrote it out on construction paper and then trimmed the edges with my great-grandmother’s heavy pinking shears (straight from the 1930s). Then I hung it on the fridge where my kids can spend the next 2 months rolling their eyes at it every time they need a glass of milk.

The next day I took Henry and Cate to Target to buy new swimsuits.

So yeah, the theme is not an absolute. But it’s fun to try to work things into it. It’s also fun to call Cate, “Ma Joad” when she stoically accepts her fate of never getting her fair share of computer time.

On theme: I started buying eggs from a friend who has her own chickens. We’re growing a tiny herb garden on the front porch. Today I added mint from my friend Dorothy’s yard, which her husband first planted in the 1950s and we found by accident when John mowed over it one day. The other morning we scouted yard sales and I was able to get a Vera Bradley bag that Cate has been wanting for a tiny fraction of the online cost. It’s not exactly the color she wanted but she was thrilled to have it.

Today I told Dorothy all about our summer theme and, having lived through the actual Great Depression, she wasn’t all that impressed. “I can think of better ways to have fun,” she said. “But I do like your idea of visiting all the parks.”

Yesterday, Cate carefully packed her new “used” bag with her ballet shoes and hair pins and we headed off to class. In the studio she pointed to a tiny hole forming on her leg and said, “I’m going to need new tights.”

“You can make those last until the end of Summer,” I said, examining the minuscule hole. “Remember–”

“I know, I know,” she quipped, “Use it all up, make it work….” But she was laughing, at least.

So, minimal wrath. But lots of eye rolling. Maybe next year’s theme will be the Industrial Revolution.


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