Things are quickly hurrying up but going nowhere this summer. Not sure why. Busy, busy but not still and quiet and summerful. Yes, summerful. What does that mean to me? I think back to being a crew cut kid in shorts and a short sleeved shirt, tanned and freckled, looking at planes flying high across the brilliant blue sky as I lay in sweet, cool grass listening to their faint droning miles above. The intoxicating perfume of honeysuckle vines floated across the heavy air into my nostrils and spoke of pleasure to my young brain. The honey bees knew this nectary secret as they buzzed about from blossom to blossom. Some days we’d pluck those honeyed flowers and taste the single drop of sweet nectar in each one. When bumble bees would crawl into a purple rose of Sharon flower, we would be quick to close the petals on them and pull the flower off the bush. Why? you ask. Well, we were bored boys and this action was tinged with excitement. We could walk around with an angry bumble bee inside a closed flower for ten or fifteen minutes like carnival actors. Eventually we would release the bee and feel like masters of the little universe we lived in, which was actually a string of connected, unfenced back yards that ran down a hill, long enough for our teen neighbor to hit golf balls from his house with a five iron. We younger boys would race after the balls like trained retriever dogs, that is until the golf boy shanked one into my right eyebrow. Six stitches later, after a trip to the old Alexandria Hospital, I came home with a war wound. It was great glory for about ten or fifteen minutes. I suppose this is how I learned empathy for the trapped bumble bees. The buzz goes away pretty quickly whether you are man or bee.
Our kingdom consisted of about two blocks in any direction. Beyond those boundaries you had to ask Mom for a visa.You needed to have a good reason to venture beyond that imaginary line of demon demarcation, where trouble lurked. She escorted us to the community pool, a mere four block walk. It would not be till we rode our own bikes around age 9 or 10 that we could explore those distant hinterlands, places our older brothers had visited and brought back stories to titillate our envious ears.
“Oh, sure, we went down to the stream along Telegraph Road. They have a rope swing that’s really cool and a deep swimming hole. Steve Smith has a skimmer board and he can surf along the surface of the stream. And Timmy O’Brien drinks beer that his brother put in the stream to keep cool.”
They? Apparently another tribe of boys inhabited the land down the Parkway hill. Now I knew that people lived there. Our school bus picked up kids from that end of The Parkway, but I never imagined what they did after they got off the St. Louis Catholic School bus. Plus, there were other kids down there who went to public school or maybe even got kicked out of school. Awesome!! The thrill of danger hung over these reports of distant tribes that lived a half mile away. A few of them played on our little league baseball team, but again, who knew what they did after the games and practices, after the season of 18 games.
That was another center point in our summers, the ball field near Virginia Hills Elementary School, a block up and a block in off Dorset Drive. We played endless baseball games there in the mornings while the air was still cool. Down to the pool in the heat of the day. And back to the baseball field for practice or a game the same night. It was considered a safe place without the need for adult supervision. And I suppose it was until the day of the great break in. A bunch of boys were huddled around the concession stand one day and the steel door was open. Somehow, one of the older boys had found a way inside the two story cinderblock building that housed ice cold bottled drinks and gum and candy. And on that revolutionary day the Bastille was ransacked, liberated Coke flowed like rainwater, free bubble gum was chewed till jaws were sore, and unpaid for candy was stuffed to overflowing into pockets. I don’t think anyone was ever held responsible for the theft and ransacking. It was a mob action carried out by twenty boys under 15 years of age. Eventually a sense of guilt came to rest where the glorious overthrow of capitalism had been for one day. The concession stand never reopened, however. Apparently adult supervision had been necessary after all.
In front of the elementary school was a traffic circle for convenient traffic flow. In the middle of the grass circle was a flagpole. I don’t know who figured out that the flagpole rope made for a darn good swing, but it seemed to be tribal knowledge handed down from older teenagers to younger kids. The problem was that you could not swing on it in daylight or the nosey neighbor who lived across the street would call you by name and threaten to tell your mother or the police. So we would sneak up to the flagpole in the evening hours when precise eyewitness was not possible. A bigger kid would unwrap the rope and get a smaller boy to sit in or hold on to the loop. And then, wow, something like a circus act would unwind in front of innocent eyes. The little kid would be zooming around at the end of that rope while a big kid or two supplied the motor power to keep the smaller boy airborne. We’d be hooting and hollering at the beauty of defying gravity and authority when Mary Burrington would come charging out of her front door to yell and take names. When that failed, she’d send her beefy husband Dick out with a mission to seek and destroy. That’s when our keen knowledge of the woods and our fence jumping abilities would come in handy to keep our tribe alive. We would all run in a thousand different directions, fleet of foot, leaving the meat manager of Safeway winded and cursing in the dark. Ah, better than holding a mad bumble bee harmlessly in your hand. Masters of the universe we were, sort of.
Now as summer races to completion, I can only dredge up slower days that did not seem to end, watching fire flies or searching for falling stars until our mothers called us in. Each mother had a distinctive way of calling her children home and we could tell by the way our names were called if there was pleasure or pain awaiting. Sometimes it was better to wait deafly in the dark. Maybe that is what constitutes the touchstone of real summer– the deep and primal connections to an earlier template of this most glorious season.