Summers when 1 was a boy were the best times of my life. I imagine it's as much that way for boys today as it was for boys in my time. The days were endless and there was always something to do. School was out from June until September, almost an eternity, and there was nothing to do but play ball and to do just about anything we wanted to do.
1 remember the nights very clearly because, at bed time, the house was unbearably hot from the buildup of the day's heat. We, my two sisters and I, slept upstairs in a single large room, they at one end and I at the other. Dad always put a big fan in the end window and he placed it so it would blow out into the night. He said that it would exhaust the heat in the room and pull cool air from the outside, through the window at the other end of the room. I never understood that principle and, after he had left, I'd always turn the fan around so it would blow the cool night air in instead of the hot air out. It didn't change anything, it was still hot and sticky, but it made more sense to me. We always went to bed with the sheets damp and perspiration covering our bodies.
Ah, but the mornings were fantastic. The mornings were something worth living for, something worth waiting for. The air coming in those open windows was wonderful! It was cool and damp and had a smell, a smell that's indescribable but unforgettable. It was the smell of freshly cut grass, of dust stirred-up by all the new construction a block down the street and the smell of hot tar, laid just yesterday to repair cracks in the streets. It was the sweet smell of unfiltered, unconditioned air. It was the smell of summer! And the sounds, those wonderful sounds from outside in the morning. The sounds of birds chirping and starting their day, of people mowing their lawns, of the steam shovel, already hard at work down on Lorraine Avenue, digging more foundations for more new houses in the subdivision, and of cars starting and neighbors heading off to work! I would just lie there in bed enjoying it for as long as I could before my mom called from downstairs. The sweat and discomfort of the night was forgotten and that wonderful air and the anticipation of the day to come was all I could think about.
I would finally jump out of bed and put on a t-shirt, dungarees (they weren't "jeans" yet) and a pair of very worn high-tops Keds (There were no Nikes back then). If Mom caught me in time I would have to go into the bathroom to wash-up and brush my teeth. If she caught me I'd also have to go back upstairs remove my dirty clothes and put on clean ones. But, if she didn't catch me I was gone at a dead run! She wanted me to eat something and, worse, wanted to tell me "You're going to mow the lawn today!". Obviously I didn't want to hear that and so I had to get away as quickly as possible.
One of the sounds I remember most is the sound of the front screen door squeaking open and slamming shut as I leaped down the steps and ran toward the street. I'd usually hit the door fast and hard and it would slam wide against the porch rail and then that spring, that old stretched and worn-out spring, would pull it back equally hard and it made the finest slamming noise you can imagine, sometimes bouncing against the door jamb two or three times. Of course this would always elicit a loud, "Stop slamming that door!",from somewhere in the house but I didn't stop and I didn't care. The day beckoned and I had to get out there.
Usually, some other neighborhood guys would be out already and somehow we'd hookup, at the ball field or at the corner. After the obligatory joking and shoving someone would say something like "Anybody wanna play ball?", and the response would be, "Nahhhh... .it's too early." We would spend an hour or more talking about how we could best use the day but it always ended with something like, "Let's ride down to the river and explore or something. We can walk the pipe or swim or something." The river was the Northwest Branch, which was about a mile away, down Colesville Road past Four Corners. It was not really a river, it was too small, but it did tumble down through a steep, rocky gorge and through a rocky stretch that had several deep, dark pools that were perfect for skinny-dipping.
The pipe was another matter. The pipe was about three feet in diameter and ran parallel to the ground, passing over a gorge at the edge of the river. It was only about twenty feet high at it's highest point but to an eight or nine year old kid it seemed more like a hundred feet. We would climb onto one end and walk across, starting at ground level. Slowly the ground dropped out from beneath us until we were looking down into the "canyon" with the river to the left. The gutsy guys would climb on top and walk across upright but, if you were scared, you could "legally" straddle it and sort of slide across without being teased. Many kids got halfway across and froze, unable to go further. They would finally, after standing there for what seemed like an eternity, slide down to a sitting position and "scoot" the rest of the way across on their butts.
In spite of my belief that summer was eternal we did finally have to go back to school in September and the days grew cooler and shorter. We still had time in the afternoons and on weekends for football and baseball but it was different. The sights and sounds of summer were gone now and we huddled inside, behind closed doors and windows. Even homework became less of a pain since there was nothing else to do. Finally, cold weather set-in completely and night came just two hours after school let out. If it were not for Christmas this time of the year would have been unbearable. Christmas was a holiday to be greatly anticipated, a holiday when school was out for over a week and new toys were to be had. But, after January 1st, we went back to school and the long wait for another summer began in earnest. Around April, though, I could begin thinking about summer again with some anticipation Now, June didn't seem so far away. Now, while I lay in bed on those cold nights, the memories of past summers and the hope of a new summer lingered. Now, I knew I could make it until June. Every spring I thought the same thing: "It'll start all over again soon and this time it'll never end."
Now, I sit here writing this, completely insulated and isolated from the outside world. It's the dead of winter and it's very cold. Sadly, if it was July or August it would be the same. The windows would be closed, the air conditioner would be on instead of the heat, and the only sounds would be those of the filtered air moving through the ductwork and the click of this computer keyboard.
There would be nothing to remind me of those wonderful summers. Summers I lost nearly sixty years ago.
Dan Barham © 2006