by Guest Author WJ Smith, aka Hugh Centreville
Back in the 80s, when my boys were growing up, toward the end of every summer, my wife would always say, “The boys are bored; they need to get back to school.” I thought it was terribly sad. And unfortunately, true. They were bored and they did need to get back to school, to reconnect with their friends, because, well, they’d run out of summer things to do.
It wasn’t the boys’ fault. We lived in the suburbs, not on a (gulp) cul-de-sac, but on a street that was a dead end and had, at the other end, a crossing street way too busy for kids riding bikes, even kids wearing helmets riding bikes. My boys were trapped. They could hang out with the kids on our street, and they did, a lot, but they couldn’t go anywhere without somebody’s mom or dad taking them, and when parents got involved, it became a planned thing. Not-planning was what made a kid’s summer, if you grew up like I did, in a small town, population around 9,000, in the early 60s.
We were always on our bikes but rarely went for “joy rides.” Bikes were how we got around. There weren’t any car pools, unless you counted a bunch of kids (sans helmets) and a dog or two in the back of one of the dad’s pickup trucks. I suppose, in the 80s, that dad would’ve got ticketed for having the kids back there, and today? Forget about it. You’d probably see him on the front page of the local paper, in handcuffs.
But bored with summer vacation and wanting, needing, to get back to school? Not in our day.
How it worked in the summer, and endless for us had kind of the opposite meaning than what it had for my own boys, we slept as late as we wanted, and once we were up and had our cereal, we were gone for the day. On our way out the door, we’d shout where we were going but where you shouted you were going was just where you started, or intended to start. You didn’t know where the day would take you.
Usually you’d head for a buddy’s house and maybe you met another boy along the way, the two Schwinns rolling up to one another, the two boys sitting up straight on their bikes, arms crossed like Indian chiefs, talking. You each went your own way, or not, depending on what you decided. Maybe you continued on to your original destination, that buddy’s house, with the other kid tagging along, and it didn’t matter if the kid tagging along didn’t really know the kid you were going to see. It was how a lot of enduring friendships started. There might be three or four or more of you by the time you arrived at the kid’s house, or maybe you didn’t arrive. Maybe something better came along.
It was the “lazy days,” and mostly what we did was hang out, and I suppose every gang had its own hangout place.
Ours was an old dam on the river. There was a grassy slope and some trees that had toppled into the water and stayed there, and a rope swing, had to have a rope swing. The rope was tied so high up in one of the cottonwoods, you couldn’t look at it without marveling at the kid (identity unknown,) who’d shimmied up there a long time ago to secure the rope. Each generation of kids had the one kid who was just really, really good at climbing trees and who was much admired for his agility and fearlessness.
Still, and with all that, the end of summer was an exciting time for us.
As August waned, the TV would be on a little bit more, there’d be pitches for all the new shows, and September brought football, our high school heroes and the cheerleaders, unapproachable goddesses, and those Friday night bonfire-pep rallies. There was baseball, too – September pennant races, two if we were lucky, none if we weren’t so lucky, and culminating with the World Series.
The Series was played in fall weather, not winter weather, and it was day games, some absolutely glorious fall afternoons, and it was the Series, not the post-season, and it didn’t last much more than a week, but, oh, what a week! Everyone was watching baseball, talking baseball, hey, it was the National Pastime. On game days during the week and just after lunch, there’d be a line of boys outside the school nurse’s office; it didn’t get any better than cutting school to watch the Series with your buddies.
Yeh, sometimes it just felt good to get back into the routine you’d so cheerfully abandoned the previous June, when the summer surely did look to be, through a boy’s eyes, endless.
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AUTHOR AND BOOK INFORMATION:
WJ Smith, aka Hugh Centerville, is retired and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. He likes baseball, cats, tall spreading sycamores, and old Indian stuff. His all time favorite book is The Last of the Mohicans.
Bobby Slater’s World by Hugh Centreville
Summer, 1964, and 13 year old Bobby Slater, one of those rich summer kids up on Baker Lake, meets a local girl, an Indian cutie, and it’s bliss except the girl is fickle. Sometimes she’s sweet and funny, sometimes not, and it’s because she’s living with a 150 year old curse. Bobby will fight the curse, but can he break down the barrier that divides the summer people from the locals? Can he bring them all together to save the girl?