The first time I consciously appreciated summer was after I had been captured and held against my will in the first grade for nine months. I was a bit “shaken” by the daunts of adding and subtracting whole numbers, spelling bees and Suzie Cozart sitting two inches behind me. The walls crept closer with each passing reading class. Edgar Allan Poe wrote often of such things.
The first summer day after our reprieve I leaned against a side-yard mimosa tree and watched high flying birds sprint freely across the sky. I drank in the tint of heat as the sun radiated off my face. The air never tasted sweeter, nor was I ever more blessed as the unseen wind bounced off the branches and plummeted past. The cold hard shackles that held me tethered to a desk momentarily forgotten…..
We might have only been seven, but we were not without some sensibilities.
The world was new again. Fresh and alive! Life danced in front of us as far as we could see. We didn’t know “carpe diem” from a Prince Albert Pipe Tobacco tin but it sure felt like it was time to seize something!
We celebrated the first week out of school by going barefooted, not reading or spelling a word and not going inside unless it was to eat or sleep. We swung with Tarzan across the big ditch till the quicksand dried up. We played an afternoon baseball game that lasted 215 innings. We swam amongst the cattle in Mr. Archie Moore’s pond. We knocked on Mrs. Brooks’ backdoor and “looked hungry” enough that she broke out her world famous peach cobbler. We threw rocks at Pet Milk Cans perched high on fence posts.
It wasn’t that we were against school in the summer of 1954. It was just that the alternative was so much better!
Every day was bright and sunny. And we met it with equal hope and anticipation. We didn’t invent the term “living large” but we took it to new heights!
The lesson was obvious, noteworthy, and eternal: We didn’t want to be someone else. Or anywhere else. We didn’t want to be 16 and driving. We were not interested in dating. Marriage and children were for our parents for goodness sakes! We didn’t dwell on having to get a job one day.
Here and now for us was……here and now!
You’d a’thought we had life by the tail. Forever!
The line at the water fountain and the smell of chalk dust jolted us back to reality. And again, we were not anti-second grade; we were pro freedom. Plus, you could almost see the baseball field in Paul David Campbell’s backyard from the school house window.
The second grade ending May never captured the old magic. Maybe the moment had passed. We were eight that summer and we didn’t have time for high flying birds or Mr. Archie’s cattle. We had Little League tryouts. And that was too big a deal for idyllic lollygagging…..
Maybe we spent the rest of our summers looking too far forward!
By the end of the sixth grade we had junior high to worry about. Our lockers would be out in the hall. We had to change classes for goodness sakes. By the end of the next year Suzie Cozart was sitting too far away from me!
The day after graduating from high school didn’t find me out by the mimosa tree. I was too busy looking for a college that might take me. And the summer after that I was so busy working to pay for my next tuition I missed the roses again.
And then I married. Got a job. Had children…...
I understand that life changes us. That we have to shift to be what we need to be…..or should be….. And, believe me, life is great even when it’s not about running barefooted down the Como Road.
But I believe with all my heart everyone needs a summer of 1954 in their life. For perspective maybe. To smile about in dark times perhaps. To pass on to young loved ones. To look back at with the sheer laughter and joy…... that made it so special in the first place!
I wouldn’t bemoan and kick the dog that life maybe kept you from ever getting back to such a place.….. I’d thank the mimosa tree, Tarzan, Miss Brooks and God for the special memory that time, space and happenstance can never take away.