Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. -A.L. Huxtable

I am trying to schedule a sleepover for Primo on Friday with one of his three cousins, or a friend from school. The one cousin is going out of town to a minor league baseball game; the other two cousins have day camp all week, and golf lessons on Saturday. The friend has summer camp for the next two weeks. Another family of friends has chess camp for the oldest boy and zoo camp for the middle girl.

I also tried to arrange a Kennywood trip among families at Primo’s school; fully one-half of the people I asked are going out of town so much during the next month that they cannot schedule one more thing. One boy is out of the country for the next six weeks with his mom; another is in the Midwest visiting his dad; two more are spending the month in California with their father and his new girlfriend.

I am just as guilty as everyone else. My two oldest did a week of neighborhood day camp, and this week are enjoying mornings at zoo camp. Next Monday begins two weeks of daily one-hour swim lessons. I have trips planned to the conservatory (Primo wants to see the glass exhibit!), the children’s museum, and the skating rink. They have attended a baseball game already this summer, and are trying to weasel another out of H.

When I was a kid, after the school year (walking five miles uphill both ways barefoot in the snow) was over, my mother more or less threw us out of the house and told us not to come back till the streetlights came on. She fed us (I guess she must have, although the only thing I distinctly remember is purple cows served at the picnic table in the backyard, and bike rides up to the 7-11 for Slurpees and fudgesicles). We came in to sleep (all piled on the living room floor in sleeping bags, as it was the only room in the house with air conditioning). And when the heat got too bad, we all laid in front of the TV in the darkened, freezing living room and watched Gilligan’s Island and Speed Racer and Hogan’s Heroes and Starblazers. After dinner, all the kids swarmed back outside to play Kick the Can and Jailbreak, running up and down our dead-end street and hiding anywhere we wanted but old lady Weston’s yard, until it got so dark we couldn’t see to find anyone anyway.

We had a teeny pool in the backyard that my father erected each summer, spreading bags and bags of sand underneath it and cursing and struggling with the damn pump. We kids loved to get in while the pool was filling; why that six inches of ice-cold hose water was so much more exciting than the actual filled pool I will never understand. Somewhere my dad found a giant truck tire inner tube, and we would float around in that thing for hours. Sometimes we would make waves, jumping up and down rhythmically in the middle of the pool with the inner tube around us, and the pool water would fountain up in the middle and then splash out over the sides. The pool sides would buckle and bulge, and my father would come running out to yell at us that the pool would collapse. It never did, though.

My friend Stacie had a pool too, and hers was bigger but she didn’t have any big brothers around and I don’t remember having as much fun at her pool. She and I would spend all day in my pool, making whirlpools and waves and playing Marco Polo. We liked to make waves and then the person in the middle would scream, for no memorable reason, “Whoop-de-doo for my Subaru” and fling ourselves into the swells. We would emerge only to run inside the frigid house, shivering wrapped in our towels, to get popsicles out of the freezer.

I can remember my mom taking us all to the library; I think I even took a watercolor class there for a morning a week one summer, and an embroidery class another summer. I played softball in the Pony League, but was positively abysmal ( I wore glasses and had no depth perception; one traumatic game I got smacked in the nose by a grounder that cracked my glasses in two) and anyway, my mom couldn’t have cared less; Stacie’s mom picked me up and took me there and drove me home. I hated it, though, I only played to hang out with Stacie, and was glad when the season ended mid-July. My older brother was a whiz baseball player though, and routinely made All-Stars. So we would all troop down to the Little League fields and watch the All-Star game and eat red licorice laces and drink raspberry Slush Puppies that turned our mouths blue.

Every so often my dad would be struck with a yen to go down to the shore. Whale Beach, my mother’s preferred spot, was only about an hour east, but you’d have thought we were planning a trip to the moon. Of course we wanted to get an early start but inevitably packing up the cooler full of fried chicken and devilled eggs and orange soda, and finding bathing suits and towels and beach chairs, and packing them and us three kids up in the car took all morning, and so we would get on the road about 11 or noon, my father furious not to have left at eight, before the heat of the day, and my mother loudly complaining about how much she hated the beach. We would spend all afternoon on the beach, my mother reading in her beach chair and bitching the whole time about the heat and the sand and the biting horseflies. My dad would swim with us, lifting us over the waves and teaching us to bodysurf. After our packed meal, we would walk the boardwalk and eat frozen custard with jimmies, and then pile into the car sunburned and full of sand, to sleep the whole way home. My father would carry us into the house one by one, my mother moaning about all the sand in the house and in the beds. For whatever insane reason (we were kids, and therefore dumb?) this was the height of summer fun, and we’d have done it once a week or more if our parents would have.

Fourth of July meant the parade with fire trucks, and hot dogs (boiled on the stove), and fireworks by the pond once it got dark. The big event of August was my little brother’s birthday, with a homemade cake intricately decorated by my mother, and maybe a trip to Clementon Amusement Park. Clementon was the sort of park that no self-respecting teenager would want to be seen in – only one or two rollercoasters and no death-defying rides - but it was great fun for littler kids. Every summer my mother would win us each a stuffed animal shooting air rifles at a target range that looked like a Wild West saloon – I am sure my little brother still has his leopard, and I still have my owl. One year she won us a little bendy giraffe, too.

Sometimes my parents would take us out for ice cream. On special occasions, we would go to Green Valley which was a fancy ice cream parlor, booths upholstered in dark green plush and the whole place smelling of sugar cones. You could order ice cream sundaes that looked like clowns or carousels, festooned with maraschino cherries and whipped cream and animal crackers.

On less momentous occasions, we went to Adolph’s, a little soft-serve walkup window near our church. We kids and my dad almost always got cake cones piled high with soft-serve vanilla and sprinkled heavily with rainbow jimmies, but my mom sometimes got a hot fudge sundae which came overflowing a little blue plastic rowboat that I claimed after my mom finished her ice cream for use with my Barbie dolls. On very hot days, the Mr Softee truck would round the neighborhood; you could get orange sherbet push-ups, or fudgesicles, or red-white-and-blue rocket pops, or plain old ice cream cones. I have yet to taste frozen custard that tastes as good since.

I spent weeks every July and August at sleepaway camp, in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania, learning how to canoe and shoot a BB gun and swimming and playing Mission Impossible in the middle of the night. When I got older, I worked in the camp kitchen, lifeguarded, and took counselor-in-training classes. My older brother attended Camp Sankanac, too, in the beginning of summer when boys’ camp was held. The summer he was twelve, he returned home wearing the clothes in which he’d left, with a trunk full of clean underwear and a raging case of impetigo. We thought that might be the end of summer camp, my mother was so furious, but fortunately it was not. We both spent every summer at camp until we got old enough to want a job that paid more than fifty dollars a week.

I hope my kids will look back on their summers with the same fond nostalgia with which I recall mine. Despite zoo camp and museum trips and playdates (and necessary trips to the grocery store), the traditional words of summer: “I’m booooooooooored…” have already issued forth from Primo’s mouth and I anticipate them soon from Seg. I take this as a sign that I am providing them with all the requisites for favorable childhood memories: long afternoons at the pool, and lounging on the porch playing Monopoly and watching the lightning bolts, and muggy summer evenings playing wiffle ball in the alley. Ice cream cones from a truck chiming “Turkey in the Straw,” and swinging on the tire swing at the park, and playing pirates on the boulders, and splashing in the fountain. Homemade popsicles slurped in the backyard, drawing all over the pavement with colored chalk, trundling bikes up and down the sidewalk, taking long walks in the coolness of early morning. Check, check, check, and check. Of COURSE they’re bored.


blackbird said...

I love this post and I think you are doing a good job of giving your kids those kinds of summers.

Sarah Louise said...

I lurve this post.

Suse said...

I love that the pregnancy hormones are making you all nostalgic and poetic.

Major Bedhead said...

This was fantastic. I can almost feel the heat of the tarmac thru my little white Keds.

Anonymous said...

I've just come to your blog and love the post! Our childhood summers were so similar that with the addition of kickball in the cul-de-sac and the Charles Chips truck making deliveries we might have grown up in the same suburb. You were the luckier one, I think. No amusement parks for us although we begged and begged.

Sarah Louise said...

What I remember most about being a child in the summer: borrowing my Grandmother's or my Aunt Margaret's library card and stocking up on books. Oh, and watching lots of re-runs of anything. Summers were when I got my dose of American culture. Matinees on Broadway or off-Broadway...we never went to amusement parks though. Thanks for the memory jog.

lazy cow said...

Great post. I desperately wanted to be American and go to summer camp. Our 6 weeks of summer holidays seemed to last forever and there was nothing to do but read/sunbake and swim. We were rarely allowed icecreams from the tinkling vans. My mother was very health-oriented and didn't allow 'junk'. (So why does she ply MY kids with Kit-kats and jelly snakes every time she sees them?)

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful!

Friday night ... you're not going to be at some book store party awaiting the midnight release of the last Harry Potter book ???

BabelBabe said...

H is out of town so no HP for me. Probably not this time, anyway, honestly. I'll go pick up my copy Saturday morning.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely, lyrical post. It brought me back to many parts of my own childhood, which involved infinite games of jacks, scrabble, and monopoly, and hundreds of those weave your own potholders thingies.

I think your kids are very lucky to have such a cool mom.

Iamthebookworm said...

I love this post! It makes me all nostalgic for my childhood.