December never looks like the end of anything to me. Summer does. Not only for all of the stuff that gets emphatically put on hold – school, serious movies, professional accountability – but also because summer is the season we are terminally in the habit of measuring by how close it is to being over – or perhaps that is only another sneaky symptom of growing old. I don’t remember being overly preoccupied with the ends of anything as a kid – it was always the firsts which commanded such longing – though by the time I had finally emerged from my childhood into my thirties, the landscape was everywhere littered with so many last cigarettes you could have probably constructed a teetering monument of them, and plunked it on the top of the Metropolitan Museum.
Summer is like that. I always think I’m going to wake up a different person on the other end. Which wouldn’t be so bad, still those are some pretty distant shores in September – aren’t they? – especially with your hand not always on the controls. My fourteen-year-old (whose arrival in this world proved not coincidental to all of my snuffing out cigarettes and selves) is leaving tomorrow for a month to counsel younger campers in Massachusetts, and when he returns he will be fifteen. My nine-year-old I still keep close to me in case he ever tries to change. We’re still reading together – Harry Potter, a sprinkling of picture books here and there – but I do not want to be too suddenly taken by surprise when it’s only me over there in the corner sighing and cackling over something I just found.
Like, when I’m lucky, Garmann’s Summer, which was originally published in Norway six years ago, won some kind of Italian literary award a year later, was smuggled by leprechauns into a couple of American retailers, promptly abandoned, and lastly became one of the guiding inspirations for this store, which was built on the assumption that some books – and some joys and some fears – we may never completely outgrow. Plus some books really stink. Deeply, often intentionally, it feels like. That was another inspiration for this store.
Meanwhile, here is a six-year-old boy who discovers himself suddenly at the edge of the rest of his life, wondering extravagantly how butterflies might get into your stomach, and where people go when they die. This last is directed toward one of the three old Aunties who come to visit for the summer, very likely for the final time, their wrinkly, papery faces cut and pasted across lawn-scapes and gardens, and even the heaven of Garmann’s (and his Auntie Borghild’s) imagining which begins with a “great starry wagon in the sky.”
There’s more: the mother with the green thumb who worries about Garmann crossing a big road on the way to school, the father who goes to work every night with an orchestra and worries that he’ll play too fast, the dead sparrow that nobody else notices, twin neighbors – named Hannah and Johanna – who have already lost their two front teeth, and can bicycle, walk tightrope on a fence, hold their heads underwater, and spell rhubarb backwards and forwards….
And dear old, forgetful Auntie Augusta who is only looking forward to the almond tart: “If you can’t remember anything,” thinks Garmann, “you have nothing to be scared of.”