Yes, we know that technically summer lasts until Sept. 22, but that’s just science — the autumnal equinox and other orbital mechanics. We all know that summer really ends on Labor Day weekend.
That’s when school begins (never mind that most already have begun). That’s when football begins (never mind that most high school and college football won’t be happening this fall). That’s when political campaigns begin (oh, just never mind altogether).
The point is, we think of Labor Day weekend as a seasonal dividing line. Summer is behind us. Ahead lies fall and the long descent into winter. (Some people actually like winter. We call such people Canadians).
The summer we are leaving behind is a summer like none we’ve known. In many ways, we never knew this summer. Oh, we had heat waves like we always do. We had cookouts on the grill. Some had their vacations to Myrtle Beach, S.C. (You can find evidence of this in the way the virus counts in Roanoke spiked about two weeks later. Thanks for the souvenirs.)
But all the big events of the summer? They never happened. The big Fourth of July fireworks displays? Oh, people shot off fireworks — every single night, it seemed — but the big community events were canceled. Summer blockbuster movies? Remember when we went to actual movie theaters and jammed in tight to watch some big release?
Baseball. “The Summer Game.” “The Boys of Summer.” Not this summer.
We didn’t see a single Salem Red Sox or Pulaski Yankees game this summer because there weren’t any. At the beginning of the year, we were worried that this would be the last summer for minor league baseball in Bristol, Danville and lots of other places because Major League Baseball — in the name of efficiency (some might say greed) — wanted to eliminate 40 to 42 minor league teams.
Summer now has passed, which means we might not even have had a chance to say goodbye to those teams. The final Appalachian League season might have been last year, and we didn’t even know it at the time.
Practically speaking, culturally speaking, the whole summer was canceled — just like spring before it. No proms, no spring sports, drive-through graduations. Fall’s not looking too good, either. Big chunks of it already have been rescheduled to spring 2021, with the hope that something will change by then.
We have not seen an event this culturally disruptive since — well, maybe ever. The Appalachian League played through World War II. So did the Piedmont League, the forerunner of the Carolina League. Hollywood kept churning out new releases then and movie houses kept playing them.
Nazis couldn’t shut down American culture but an invisible virus did. More accurately, our inability to contain the virus did. Then again, Americans weren’t collaborating with the Nazis, but lots of Americans effectively are collaborating with the virus — refusing to wear masks or practice social distancing, insisting that life goes on as normal, virus or no virus.
You can argue, as some do, that by shutting down vast swaths of American society we are all hysterically overreacting — that the world has seen worse pandemics, which is true. On the other hand, the families of more than 187,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 might beg to differ with those who say this is no big deal.
This has been said before, but it bears repeating: The virus has killed more Americans in eight months than all the wars since World War II combined. Here’s another measure: The bloodiest U.S. conflict was the Civil War, in which 449 Americans died each day. Right now, the U.S. is averaging 853 deaths per day due to the virus.
We’ve pointed this out before, but it bears repeating: We are unique among nations and not in a good way. The United States and South Korea reported their first cases of the virus on the same day. South Korea aggressively responded and got the virus under control. We did not and have not.
We have one of the worst virus rates in the world. We have rates that are five times higher than neighboring Canada. We have rates that put us on par with such public health exemplars as French Guiana.
There are plenty of politicians we can blame for this — and should — but they are not the only ones who deserve blame.
Ultimately, we should blame ourselves. We, as a people, could have taken things seriously even if our politicians didn’t. But we didn’t, and this is what we get: A summer that never happened.
Culturally speaking, all we have to show for the summer of 2020 are empty plinths on Monument Avenue and the earworm of “Watermelon Sugar” by Harry Styles, as perfect a summer song that ever could be — except we didn’t really have a summer.
Now the calendar has turned into September. In a normal year, a Labor Day falling this late in September would be a cause for even more celebration — it would be as if we cheated time itself and squeezed another week out of summer. Instead, we’ve only cheated ourselves.
Goodbye, summer. We hardly knew ye.
—Adapted from The Roanoke Times