If summer in Aiken were to have a symbol, I believe it should be an ampersand. The ampersand is that quirky twist and turn of lines and curves that stands for the word “and.”
There seems to be no single way to properly depict the ampersand. Every typestyle and font has its own unique version of it; as I suspect we each have our own personal way of writing it by hand. It can appear scripty or blockish, simple or complex, barefoot or fancy dress. Which, to my mind, is a lot like summer in Aiken.
There was a time when the word “and” was considered a part of the alphabet. When school children recited their “A-B-Cs,” they would include it at the end of the line, and isolate it by saying “and, per se” – meaning “and, by itself” – thereby avoiding potential confusion that it was being used as a word of conjunction between the letter “Z” and something coming after it. In the style of the times, they would actually recite the full statement: “and, per se, and.” (So here’s the fun part ... say “and, per se, and” several times fast, and you’ll discover the origin of the word ampersand itself.)
And, per se, and. And, by itself, and.
To my mind, even though it is a conjunction between spring and autumn, summertime in Aiken is somehow very much by and of itself. The most standalone season of the year. Summer, per se, summer.
Summer in Aiken comes upon us suddenly. And there it sits, alone and singular, languishing and hot and sun-soaked, moving more slowly than time itself. Many folks even leave Aiken in the summer, underscoring the sense of isolation for those of us who remain, stretching the spaces out between us, like slow, deliberate yawns and napping cats. One day seems to simply melt across the sky into the next, as if it were ice cream dripped onto an already sticky sidewalk. Even the nights slow down in summer in Aiken (shortened as we are told they are in reality). The sound of tree frogs measures the heat, and the creak of overhead fans comments on the heaviness of the air.
Summer, per se, summer. When we’re in its midst, recalling the chill of winter never seems quite possible. And yet, in other seasons, summer is at the tip of our memories, easily felt on our shoulders and thought of with myopic fondness and longing.
But the ampersand as a symbol for the season has more meaning to me than just its “per se” status. I find the full “and, by itself, and” translation and roots to be perhaps even more compelling.
Summers in Aiken are days that begin and end with “ands.” They’re filled with possibilities – with “what next” potential. And, somehow, they’re a reminder that there is a “what next” to come. Summertime in Aiken induces us to slow down and live the moment, live the rhythm and cadence of the right now. But summer in Aiken is also about the possibilities of things yet to be – coming in with the flash of lightning and the smell of sudden rain, filled with roses and wisteria and forgotten vines, the sound of honey bees and the sight of summer bats, with art in the alley and music in the park.
Perhaps summertime in Aiken can serve as an example that no matter if we are at the beginning, the middle, or the end of our life experiences, there is more that awaits. That there is delight in the now, by itself. And there are unseen, unknown, amazing possibilities yet to come.
And ... per se ... and.