Sunday, August 29, 2010
Yet another summer is drawing to a close and like the last, I am left wondering, “Where did it go?” As a child, the summer stretched out if front of me - months full of days spent outside without a care in the world. Looking back, I like to think that I appreciated them. Had I the foresight to know how little time I have now for play, I would have embraced them more fully.
I grew up in Haddonfield, New Jersey; a Stepford-like town where the wide streets are still lined with lush, green trees which provide ample shade. Dots of sunlight break through and dance across the asphalt when a breeze stirs the branches. With a population of a little over twelve thousand, the town was small enough to walk around without parental supervision. In the late seventies and eighties, we didn’t have Amber Alerts, we didn’t wear helmets when we rode our bikes and it was okay for other adults in the neighborhood to discipline us if we were up to no good.
My summers were carefree. Usually a couple weeks were spent at camp in Hope, Maine, but the rest was full of adventure. From the moment the sun rose until the lightening bugs lit up the night sky by the thousands, I was outside.
I grew up on Mountwell Avenue where there were tons of kids all in various age groups. Somewhere along the way we were dubbed the “Mountwell Gang”, but we were far from gangsters. I think we earned the title because we always did stuff together. We played games like Kick the Can, Jailbreak and Capture the Flag. Occasionally we hung out on the second floor of my neighbor’s garage. We didn’t mind the stuffiness, the dust and cobwebs or the heat. Here secrets were told or dares were made. We all looked forward to sitting in the wrecked Corvette Stingray parked one level below. The once gold paint faded to a dull bronze.
My dad’s garden and fruit trees provided ample sustenance, as did the honeysuckle which grew along the fence by the train tracks. I would roam around barefoot and come home with feet stained reddish purple from trampling around on fallen mulberries. No matter how much I scrubbed my feet, they were discolored for days. Occasionally I received an invite to go to the pool club. My parent’s never paid for a membership, so when the opportunity arose, I jumped on it. After the chlorine became too much, my friends and I would drip dry as we walked to the corner store where we bought Swedish Fish and Jawbreakers for a penny each.
As we got older my friends and I found jobs around town. The days were absorbed, but our curfews were later and nights were spent roaming around the hang out spots, spending money on Big Gulps and cigarettes (sometimes cheap beer or Boone's Farm wine), and sneaking kisses with the romantic interest of the summer.
One of my friend’s parents had a house at the shore and we would drive down there, a caravan of three to four cars. At the shore, we attended parties on the beach among the sand dunes and around raging bonfires. The heat of the day would cool off along the ocean, our sunburned skin left us feverish with chills and we welcomed the warmth of the flames.
Earlier this summer I traveled to Philadelphia where two of my best friends from high school and I gathered for a reunion. One day we took NJ Transit over the bridge to our hometown. Stepping off the train was like stepping back in time. Nothing had changed; the air was still swollen with humidity and cicadas hummed above in the tree tops.
We walked down the main street, past all the shops and offices we recalled from our childhood. It had been eighteen years since we last tread the uneven brick sidewalks, which bulge from roots growing underneath. I waited for a car to drive by and honk, its occupants hollering and waving in recognition. We laughed and reminisced. Once again we were on summer vacation and we only thought about the day ahead, not the next. Even sweat dripping down and collecting in the small of our backs didn’t bother us. We had some money in our pockets and our cares about the real world were temporarily forgotten.