Our young parents had six children in eight years and, although we were always pretty broke,
we were the only family on the street that went to private school, several towns away, and so, for the neighborhood weirdos like us, summer was more than a reprieve from the routine of ridicule, it was freedom, and that freedom transformed us. Sweating, for example, on a towel in your bathing suit at the city pool, squinting into the sun to see if your other friend was here yet, while Queen played on the lifeguard’s radio, was what every kid in Cleveland did, at least 5 hot days a week from noon till six, until you were expected home for dinner. The six of us—and we did, often, travel in a pack—may not have “fit in,” but we blended, and it felt kind of nice to be normal, for a change.
Yes, once upon a time, long, long ago, I was a kid. I had no mortgage or car payment, no laundry to wash or job to keep to pay for the above. My biggest concern was peer pressure—and it was oppressive in junior high, like when the other girls on the basketball team ganged up to beat me up before practice one Saturday so I would quit the team. But, as ugly as that phase was, adulthood is tougher. And, if you’re doing it right, the responsibility never ends.
We didn’t worry about these things in the summertime of my childhood. We lived outside, days were spent at the public pool (which we biked to, no one escorted us or drove us), and at night it was Freeze Tag or Hide and Seek. Then, if I was really lucky, a friend would ask me to sleep over. We lived outside and we lived on our bikes. We rode our bikes and rode our bikes until we were just about one unit: bike and rider, our skin tanning in the sun until we were little bronzed angels.
Nowadays, I think about fire ants when I walk through the grass, and I worry about the calories in all those ice cream cones we ate, and about skin cancer. And, I don’t have friends like that anymore, either. My friends grew up and I moved away, and there is no happy gang of friends at-a-moment’s-notice to “play,” anymore. Adult parties are about eating and drinking too much, and there’s not much fun in it anymore. I miss the drive-in and the impromptu baseball games. I still love to ride my bike, but it’s not the same, and I miss those easy joys.
But, sometimes in summer, when I’m walking barefoot to the mailbox at night and a sweet breeze covers me in the perfume of something blooming, I stop and take it in: the full moon with a dash of night clouds or a side order of stars. Or, I’ll smile when I’m walking and I smell the neighbor barbecuing, the laughter of guests bounding over the fence. And sometimes, just sometimes, when I taste the sunshine in a buttery ear of corn, a ripe watermelon dripping onto my shirt--the magic of summer returns.