Mid-summer Connecticut morning and I’m sitting on the back deck drinking coffee and watching my dog dig yet another hole, in search of the elusive chipmunk. Her tail wags frantically and she barely lifts her head when I call her. To her, every day is summer.
When I was a girl (yes, yes, anytime my father started a conversation with, “When I was a boy…”, I’d grind my teeth), I believed summer lasted a whole year, while school only lasted 182 days. And back then, I wasn’t responsible for clean toilets or fresh laundry. All that mattered was getting a seat on the bright orange merry-go-round at the park next door or a place in line to pay 10 cents and swim in Goldstar Pool.
From the time we got up in the morning, until my mother whistled for us to come home, we’d be on our bikes or building tree forts in the woods. Being a kid in the 1960’s meant freedom and new adventures each day.
Did bad things happen? Of course, they did, but the world (at least our small piece of it) seemed safer then. That is if you don’t count Selma and Birmingham, Vietnam and a string of assassinations whose repercussions are still being felt.
My small world felt very innocent. I could make a pilgrimage through the dense woods that backed the town park and be home for lunch unharmed. And our house bordered the other side, so I always felt the park was mine.
And the park was always packed with kids. My first crush was on Barbara, the park teacher. Manned with only a silver whistle, when she said, “Knock it off!”, you did! Her face has blurred, but I can still see her sitting on a picnic table, the coveted whistle hanging from the first lanyard I ever made.
Summer seemed one endless ride down a just-polished-with-wax-paper slide or games of P.I.G. on the cracked cement basketball court, as long as the big kids weren’t using it.
As a grandmother of 6, I understand the concerns of today’s parents. I’m not suggesting you pack a bagged lunch and let your 8-year-old pedal off into the unknown. This is one of the reasons, summer camps are flourishing.
The world has changed. It’s moved well beyond my childhood memories. And with it goes imagination, creativity and trust.
There are children in my neighborhood. I’ve seen them getting on and off the school bus. I know they exist and yet, it is quiet as I sit here writing. The birds keep me company and a lawn mower groans in the distance. Where are the children to enjoy this day?
Maybe they are sleeping in or playing Minecraft. They could be binge-watching the first season of ‘Stranger Things’ or at Ninja Summer Camp. I do not hear anyone shouting “Ollie Ollie in Free.” No laughter through the trees.
This could make me sad or I could finish writing this post and pour the last of the coffee into my mug, a mug made at summer camp by my granddaughter. The lawn mower abruptly stops and I almost smell the cut grass, feel sweat dripping down my back.
And then, as if I conjured it myself, the sound of a basketball being dribbled. If I listen hard enough, the ball is launched from just outside the 3-point line … and then … Swish.