I’m sitting at my desk, sliding door to the deck open. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon. The sun goes in and out from under gray clouds that tease us with the possibility of rain later this evening while throwing long shadows across the yard as the afternoon wears on. I don’t have to work today and I’ve done enough housework to quell any feelings of guilt so now I’m enjoying the down time while revising the final chapters of “Mary Bishop”.
A light wind stirs the leaves, clacks tree limbs together. Every now and then our doe comes wandering quietly through the yard in hopes I won’t catch her nibbling at the hostas. Song birds sing a chorus above while squirrels chatter and chase each other up and down tree trunks; a chipmunk plays under the ferns. Children ride by on their bikes out front, calling to each other. Dogs bark at them from across the street as they pass. A neighbor is mowing his lawn.
These are the sounds of my childhood and they make me both happy and a little sad at how fast the years are passing by. This is when I miss riding my bike to the public swimming pool with my brothers and sister. This is when I miss watching my own children, now grown and living too far away, play on their swing set in the back yard.
These sounds make me remember the smell of chlorine, the taste of root beer popsicles. Bells ringing from the Catholic Church on the hill. As I write this I am reminded this is the weekend of the Fireman’s Picnic back in my hometown. A carnival with rides and games, cotton candy, hamburgers and chicken dinners, dances, a parade on Sunday and fireworks to cap off the weekend. This was the height of summer in my hometown, and every little town around us. You could go to a different parade/picnic every Sunday of the summer if you wanted.
I think of long afternoons in the backyard, lathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil or Coppertone, a cold Fresca or Tab and a book to pass the time. The hope was for a tan, but usually ended with a burn. The fire whistle blew at noon and we knew we had about five minutes to make it home or we’d not get any lunch.
As the sun went down and our tree-lined street grew dark with only the overhead lights and maybe a bright full moon to light our way, we’d play kick the can. I close my eyes and I can still hear the squeals and laughter and cries of “no fair” as we raced each other around the house to see who could get to that coffee can first.
I grew up in a small mid-western town in the 1960s and ‘70s. We didn’t worry about kidnappers or terrorists. We could ride our bikes anywhere, and we did, even far out into the country. We just had to tell mom where we were going and when we’d be back. The only gangs we knew were our own groups of friends, and they were good gangs. We carried squirt guns, not semi-automatic weapons and handguns. We didn’t have cell phones or video games. We had a watch, our parents’ trust, and a basketball.