This is, perhaps obviously so, mostly derived from my own personal experiences.
As such... your mileage may vary... WIDELY
Remember that feeling of jubilation, that awesome sense of freedom, that would fill you from the tips of your toes to the hair on your head when you would step off of that school bus for the final time for the school year? Remember just running off out into the warm hair, rushing home, backpack filled with the contents of your desk, NO HOMEWORK, and how wonderful that feeling was? The feeling that you'd loved to have bottled up and kept for later?
Yes, for most school-age children in America, that is when summer begins, on that late-May - or, depending on how many snow days you'd had in winter, early-June - day. No matter the actual day of Summer Solstice. That was just something marked on the calendar hanging in the kitchen at home.
No matter how hot, or muggy it got, depending on your geographical area, Summer was truly the greatest season that existed. Three months, give or take, of pure homeworkless bliss; household chores aside, the freedom to do as you chose and sleep as long as you wanted every day. It's like three months of nothing but Saturdays.
Summer isn't about how the Earth is tilted so that your region of the planet is getting more direct sunlight during a particular orbital period. No, it's about approximately 90 days of playtime, of snow cones, ice cream, shooting off and/or watching fireworks around the Fourth, of running through the sprinklers or sun-drenched fields, taking off in the morning after breakfast with your friends and riding bicycles all day until you had to come home when it finally got dark... at 9 P.M.. Say what you want about Daylight Savings Time... that's pretty fuggin cool. But those summer nights... they were, too! I remember summer country nights where I would plunge into a sea of twinkling lightning bugs with a jar, trying to catch as many as I could. Or simply spending them outside with family and friends, drinking something cold, by the bug zapper, just watching those lighting bugs and listening to the songs of the crickets, the croaks of the frogs, the hypnotic, almost lonely song of the whippoorwill, and the little gurgles here and there from the pool's filter.
Yes, let's not forget the POOL! It encompasses an entire subset of summertime bliss. Whether you were fortunate enough to have one in your backyard or you hung out at your town's public pool with friends, not much beats that almost heart-stopping slap of cool as you took your first splash into the water of the season, or that comforting feeling of slipping into the almost bathtub-like warmth of pool water that's had a month and a half to heat up in day-after-day of summer heat. Splashing, diving, or just peacefully sunning on a blow-up raft with nobody else around on a quiet late-morning in July, no sounds but an occasional blip of the water, almost undetectable woo of a weak breeze, and buzzing of nearby pests coming in for a drink, it didn't matter. The pool was cool, both literally and figuratively.
For me, summer was all of those things, but here's a few tidbits that you may or may not be able to relate to. But even if you don't share the exact details, you probably have your own similar little things that you might be reminded of. I remember that summer truly started, the reality would finally sink in, when I would hear the tropical, happy-sounding jingle for Raging Rivers, a nearby water park in Illinois near St. Louis, either along with the commercial on TV or on the radio. Or I would see those commercials for The Muny, St. Louis' outdoor theatre, and hear their jingle, "Meet me at the Muny... the Muny at Forest Park!" I'd usually see these while watching television all morning on those days where I had nothing to do but watch cartoons and The Price is Right, loooooooonnng before Rod Roddy went tits up and Bob Barker retired.
Wait. Back up. Nothing. I had days where I had nothing to do? Nothing? Damn. Do YOU remember the last time you woke up naturally, no alarm clock, and got out of bed, and had NOTHING you had to do?
In fact, the magical happiness of Summer Freedom, of having NOTHING to do (nothing important anyway) almost matches in intensity to that sinking feeling in mid-August that school was coming once again. Remember the frown that would droop down your face, maybe the first one all summer, when you'd start to see those Back-to-School commercials, special sales on clothes, notebooks, pencils, pens... UGH!
Of course things changed when you were getting on in your teen years and you had to have a job. That is, if you wanted to drive and your parents decided to shut off the free money fountain. But still, those part-time jobs still left you with plenty of freedom. Normally you didn't have to take work home with you as many of us do now. You still had no mortgage or kids. Maybe you had a car payment and insurance bills; if you were really lucky you didn't.
But even though you had to show up for 4, or 6, or even 8 hours at a place where you had to serve food or cook food or clean something, in some ways you had more freedom in those days. If you had a car, or if you were cruising with friends who did, you were no longer limited by how far a bicycle could take you. You could go almost anywhere and at almost any time. Even if it was just crusing around time during those summer nights, with the windows, or maybe even the top down, hanging out with friends at all night fast food restaurants (usually the one you worked at, sometimes taunting friends with how much you were off work that night and how much they weren't), or the shopping mall, or, hell, even the town's always-open Super Wal-Mart. Sometimes these nights were spent with with a group of friends. Others, alone, with your girlfriend/boyfriend, making out somewhere secluded, adding more steam to the already steamy summer night.
And let's not forget, work or not, there was still no school! Still no homework! Or books! Or teachers' dirty looks!
My second-best college summer was 1997 (the best was 1995 when I met my future wife). In '97 I got to work at the University's computer lab (my regular job during the school year) because I was taking one night summer session class, a computer art class where I got an 'A' (the only college semester where I got a 4.0 GPA, heh). But the computer lab job was only from 9 AM to 2PM; I had the rest of the day and night for whatever. And the summer began, after the spring semester ended and before the job and class began, with my first trip to Florida, first long road trip, and, for all intents and purposes, pretty much my first trip out of the state of Missouri, and for that I have my wife, her parents, and her parents' car to thank. So it was also the first time seeing the ocean, a real beach, etc. etc. It was truly the last summer I had of copious amounts of freedom. (The summer of '98 I worked as a checker at a grocery store and no longer lived on campus and at a real apartment, so therefore I had a lot more bills to worry about, as well as my impending graduation. Real Life was encroaching. And it encroached completely in the summer of 99 after I graduated and was unemployed and had no money.)
But nevermind all that depressing stuff!
Whether you were still in high school or in your early college years, when maybe you still got to live at home between semesters, it didn't matter. Except if you were in college, those impending responsibilities like rent or house payments and the Full Time Job and Career were closing in fast. So maybe you partied harder, enjoyed the carefree summers you had left while you could!
If only we could step into a holodeck now and relive just one of those summer days or nights, either from our childhood or young adult years. What would you pay for an admission charge for a ride like that??
At one time it was free, though. Hopefully you milked the experiences for all they were worth