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Commentary: Where summer spends the summer

BLOCK ISLAND, R.I. — We’ve barely set foot in the house when Zoe, simultaneously shy and irrepressible, finds the blackberries encircling the property in high hedges with camouflaged, possibly lethal stickers.

Granddaughter No. 2 extracts a small, promising handful. Enough for a sundae?

She helps with a small bouquet of Queen Anne’s Lace and limpid blue flowers. They go in the living room.

The grownups survey their home for the next week. Greetings have been left:

“Summer People — Summer Not”

“Back door guests are best”

“If you’re smoking, you better be on fire”

There is a watercolor of the island’s first ice cream parlor. All the patrons are dogs or cats or cows or goats.

Tacked to a wall is the odd license plate, commemorating, one imagines, some important time in the life of the owner.

“177L Ohio 1966” and “Maine ’01, Vacationland.”

We are told this is the year to put the “BI” sticker – the one with the amoeba-like tracing the island off southern Rhode Island, on the bumper of the car.

Baseball and bicycles

One promises to leave the world to its own devices for these few days. One buys the morning newspapers and marvels at the resurgence of Showalter’s O’s. This baseball-superstitious fan knows it’s because he left town. Otherwise, we’d be 0 for August.

The hectic life pursues even the most resolute, of course.

Bikes returned for the week come with a lock and crimson tether. Having neglected to secure it to the basket, one is chagrined to find it missing — lost no doubt along the expanse of island roadways.

Back at the rental stand, the proprietor hands over a new one.

“Should I pay you for the lost one?

“No. It’s OK. They get turned in all the time.”

Still, would this grace have been available off island?

Good businessman, I say. We get another bike at the same place a day later.

Helping moments

Daughter No. 2 spends the first day on the phone, looking for home health care. An aunt needs assistance. She — the aunt, that is — is grateful for the intervention. That, of course, is a blessing. We can be a little cranky about the onset of immobility.

The daughter — a favorite of her aunt — knows how to do this. She does it for a living — and because it’s her way. She gathers all the information. She doesn’t have to translate the bureaucratese. She’s fluent. The arrangements are made.

We are, as it turns out, having summer of such helping moments.

We spent some time listening to conversations between Roger Rosenblatt, the essayist, and writers such as Alice McDermott, the Hopkins professor.

Rosenblatt’s last book, “Making Toast,” chronicles his new life after the death of his daughter at age 38. He moves into her house to help with the three young children.

He says he is not on good terms with God after his daughter’s death. But, at Chautauqua where the conversation with McDermott and others were held earlier this summer, he meets Alan Jones, the charismatic former dean of Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco.

Rosenblatt listens to Jones’ morning sermons and says that if the former bishop “is an emissary of God,” Rosenblatt might be willing to listen to the Almighty again.

Wanted: A few good books

You didn’t ask, but if the O’s run ends, here’s a suggested reading list:

  • “Making Toast” (See above)
  • “The Forever War,” Dexter Filkins. If you aren’t convinced that this war could be forever, read Filkins. While you’re at it, Thank The New York Times for keeping Filkins on station long enough to master the subject. Thank Filkins for his heart and his courage.
  • Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, “The Girl …” books. Enough said.
  • “The Glass Rainbow.” This is James Lee Burke near the top of his crime novel game. The man can describe Louisiana, New Orleans and the human condition — even if a thoroughly debauched condition — as well as any practitioner of the genre.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column runs Fridays in The Daily Record. His e-mail address is