I wrote this for the Songs For Summer website around 2000 and thought it should be online somewhere….
ABOUT SUMMER (the most important part)
Summer Lynn Brannin was born on June 23, 1976 at Tri-City Hospital in Oceanside, California about a half hour north of San Diego. She grew up in Cardiff, a beautiful little beach town in the North County of San Diego. She was instantly beautiful and towered over everyone in her classes (finishing a respectable 6’1″). For most of her childhood, she and her brother were brought up by her mother. Summer developed her creativity early on, making up games for her and her brother to play, drawing, painting and starting on the path to becoming a gifted artist. They eventually moved to a nearby country style house in Leucadia, where she attended San Dieguito High School.
From a very young age, Summer loved music. Her mom would play classical music, quiz the kids on the pieces, and even left the stereo on for the family cat to enjoy when no one was home. As a young teen, she was lucky enough to have a few friends who recommended all kinds of music to her. More than anything, she loved old jazz and “swooshy” British rock. Her music collection was mostly full of old thrift store records (sometimes purchased only for the cover art) and import albums by bands that are still unheard of on these shores. Because most of her favorite groups either skipped San Diego altogether or played 21 and up clubs, she was always going to Los Angeles for concerts. She really knew her stuff. This was all when she was just 16.
It was around this time that she sent a letter and a mixtape to a local zine called 360. One of the writers, Sam O’Daniel, was blown away that they liked so much of the same music and they struck up a friendship. Eventually, Sam, myself, and my friend Pat moved up to the Bay Area together. Summer would occasionally call and whenever Sam wasn’t home, we’d talk a little. We became phone friends. I liked talking to her and neither of us had made many new friends in awhile. It turned out we liked lots of the same music and had been to lots of the same concerts, including one two years earlier where she actually remembered seeing me simply because I was wearing a Bjork shirt.
Just before Sam moved out, I suggested Summer & I meet when I came down to San Diego. We hit it off but no sparks flew. I invited her up for a party that we were having and when she hit the Bay Area, she came alive in a way that I hadn’t seen before. We fell in love and were talking about moving in together by the end of her stay. She always felt a huge connection with that part of California and we were actually planning to move there from San Diego until she became sick. We decided to wait and I was promptly offered a job in Los Angeles that I took. Summer continued working, taking night classes to finish up high school and working full-time at a nearby health food store. She would take the train up to Los Angeles and, to pass the time, would write me wonderful, hilarious accounts of her trips, filled with drawings.
My job didn’t work out and after living at home in San Diego for a short month, we decided to move in together. We found a nice, cheap place in Kearny Mesa, an uninteresting part of town that was within walking distance of a health food store and a junior college. Summer was excited to move into her own place but even more excited to have an entire apartment to decorate and fill with her stuff. She filled it alright. She once put monster eyes, nose and mouth on a huge avalanche of laundry spilling from the closet. There was a corner for “lounge” stuff, sleepytime things hung over the bed, and the kitchen had all kinds of food related things on the walls.
One of the best parts about living with Summer was being around her artwork so much. When we started dating, I would get brilliant, endless letters full of drawings, magazine clippings, stickers and anything else she could fit in an envelope. Now that we lived together, I’d sometimes come home to find her asleep with the floor covered in drawings she’d left for me to see. Maybe she’d leave arrows pointing to the bed. I saved every single note she ever left for me. Then she started taking art classes and I got to see her attempt new styles of art. Of course, she was the best in whatever she tried. I always thought she was the greatest artist ever but I’m pretty biased. I was so proud to see how many fellow artists agreed with me. One of her teachers leaned over her shoulder once and said, “I wish I was making lines like that when I was your age.”
Just before the market she worked for went out of business, Summer heard word that a Whole Foods Market opening in San Diego. An old boss of hers was setting up the deli department and was thrilled to have Summer help. She loved working there and her customers and co-workers all clearly adored her. Sometimes we’d go grocery shopping and it would take forever because everyone knew her and wanted to talk. Along with my family, she now had another extended family that she felt close to. She continued to go to school full-time while she worked there. I don’t know how she did it.
The fact that she was so incredibly healthy made her illness all the more unfair. You don’t need the whole story. The point of this project is to do some good. The short version is that she’d been having back pains for some time. In February of 1998, a high fever took her to the emergency room. When they ran some tests, they found a high sed rate, which can usually mean other things. Hospital tests showed nothing but a few days later, they found something on her kidney. We were so naive that we both started laughing when they told us we had to go back to the hospital for more tests because it just seemed like a huge inconvenience to us. What they found was a extremely rare type of kidney cancer that wasn’t treatable by chemotherapy. There was nothing they could trace it to. No one will ever know how or why this happened to such a healthy young girl.
As soon as she was diagnosed, the love she’d given came back in a big way. She had more people wanting to help and visit her than the hospital had ever seen. People donated their time, their money, their words, and their love. Her co-workers and employees from other Whole Foods stores donated their bonus money. Regular prayer sessions were organized in the hospital chapel. Her uncle flew out from Iowa for several weeks to help care for her. Her entire family completely redid a room in her mom’s house for her to stay in. She was never alone. I could go on forever about all of the good deeds that were done during that time. She couldn’t have left feeling more loved but she couldn’t have lived with the amount of spreading the cancer did in just seven weeks. Doctors said it was more like seven MONTHS worth. She was never well enough to start any treatment or undergo any surgery. Most people would’ve given up long before her but she fought incredibly hard. Everyone was in disbelief at how strong she was and how she still managed to care for the people around her. She passed away on April 19th, 1998, less than seven weeks after first being admitted to the hospital.
After she passed away, people continued to show how much they cared about her. Her funeral, candlelight vigil and celebration of life were all filled with dozens of people expressing how much she’d meant to them. People gave thousands of dollars to help pay for funeral and hospital costs. Her friends and I put together an art show of her work. Several thousand people have come through this website and many have left notes about how touched they were without even knowing her.
You might have heard the phrase “she doesn’t have a bad bone in her body” but it was all too true for Summer. Her name couldn’t have described her positive disposition more perfectly. She brought joy anywhere she went. She made everyone (myself included) feel short, fat, and ugly when she walked into a room and then completely at ease the moment she spoke to you. Everything she wore looked amazing, even if it was a dress and jeans (her favorite fashion statement). Some of her best friends were over 80 years old. Kids loved her. She adored animals of all kinds. She was funnier than any comedian. Her artwork was pure genius. Everyone she ever met remembers her fondly.
I can only hope that all of the great things she left behind continue to bring people happiness. She would want me to end this with something to leave you with a smile, so here’s some silly stuff she wrote……
Now, it’s late. Mr. Sandman and I are playing hide and go seek, only it’s not as fun when you’re so tired that you begin to spell “stired” instead of “so tired”. I’ve got visions of cocoa beans dancing in my head to the beat of mariachi madness….
if only sleep grew on trees…..
I love black and white newsprint on pink paper. I once thought about marrying it. In fact I even asked it…I’ve yet to receive a reply.
I found the sandman. Guess where he was? in my fuzzy hay sweater. I just put it on and I’m suddenly very sleepy.
More about Summer at SUMMER BRANNIN, ANGEL 1998-PRESENT