Strawberry Fields Forever: The Last Summer in Hartford Hill

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I still remember the sound of John’s voice in the car as we drove away from Scotti’s produce stand. We had finished picking up freshly harvested corn. It was time to return home for a family dinner. Naturally, I turned on “Rubber Soul” and cranked up the volume. When John belted out “Drive My Car,” my dad revved the engine. I couldn’t help but sing along. We sped down the road—or should I say “Penny Lane”?—and I believed no one was cooler than us.
Beatles music is the soundtrack for my childhood memories. When my parents fought, I would retreat to my room and switch on “Help” or “Come Together.” One summer in particular, the Beatles were a constant source of consolation. That summer, three years ago, John, Paul, George and Ringo were unconditionally loyal, and they never asked intrusive questions. The Beatles were some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I enjoyed their catchy, upbeat tunes such as “What Goes On,” “Wait,” and “The Word.” I played these cheerful tunes on my boom box on the beach while roasting s’mores. The Beatles also made me sensitive to sadness and loss before I had ever experienced these feelings in a deeper sense: I learned to empathize by listening to the melancholy stories of “A Day in the Life” and “Blackbird.” I always associated The Beatles with that summer, when I had time to get lost in a world of music.
Like several summers before, we spent our days at the “Cooper House,” a beach house we rented atop Hartford Hill. Hartford Hill was an oasis, separated from the rest of the world by a long meadow, winding weeds, and coarse sunflowers. We had rented the house every summer for ten years, and the meadow was my “Octopus’ Garden,” a playground and sanctuary. I avoided familial conflicts by exploring the field or hopping on my bike to visit a friend. There were bumpy bike and walking paths that I used every morning to get to tennis and swimming lessons. I woke up early, ate breakfast quickly, slathered on eight layers of sun block, and was out the door by 8am. On Hartford Hill, I could escape. Maybe The Beatles put it best: the Cooper house helped me “be warm beneath the storm/in our little hideaway beneath the waves.” Every night, when it was time for dinner, I would head home. I slowly climbed back up Hartford hill, pumping my legs hard on the pedals. Dreading my parents’ fighting, I felt weighty and tired biking uphill. I played “The Night Before,” “Hold Me Tight,” or “Anna” in my head, and, mouthing the words, I focused on the rough path under the wheels of my bike. Later, asleep in my bed, I made “I Will” my nightly lullaby.
At the end of that summer, the Cooper family decided the wrong family was making memories in their white house. After ten years, they stopped renting out their summer house. The warm wind blowing in my face and the New England smell of dew in my lungs would later seem a distant dream. Soon after that summer, my parents separated and then later divorced. My life was turned upside down, and I felt lost, a “Nowhere Man.” When I was upset, confused, and nostalgic, only “Yesterday” matched my sentiments. When my parents were together, “all my troubles seemed so far away [and] Love was such an easy game to play.” I missed crawling into bed with my parents on either side, holidays in matching pajamas, and birthday songs as a family. Most of all, I missed watching the sunsets on Hartford Hill.
The Beatles, it seemed, knew my sadness. They wrote for me. They mourned with me. I knew their lyrics like I knew the wrinkles on my mother’s hands and creases on my dad’s favorite jacket. They say Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude,” my favorite song, for Julian Lennon during John and Cynthia’s separation. “Hey Jude” was a beautiful song to me that helped to heal the wounds my parents’ broken relationship. Now when I listen to “Hey Jude,” I am reminded both of that summer and of the difficult times that followed it.
As The Beatles sang, “Though I know I’ll never lose affection/For people and things that went before/I know I’ll often stop and think about them,” I have learned to accept my family in its new form. After all, The Beatles broke up too. They went their separate ways in 1970, just like my parents moved into separate houses in 2008. There is something beautiful about things we have lost: we can recognize they are gone without tarnishing them in our memories. The Beatles’ songs remain valuable to us despite the troubles that came after their creation, just as I continue to love my family in its ever evolving form.





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