Sunday, July 31, 2011

On Summer Days and Nights Circa 1976

A fading Polaroid shot of a stream on the property of
my childhood home.
Even as I wish for this summer’s rapid demise, I cling to the days, oppressive as they are, reluctant for early sunsets and cold winds.  I am not a fan of winter.  But I’ve noticed that over time the flavor of summer has changed and I enjoy it less.  Maybe it’s the unbroken string of heat, maybe it’s the weight of adult responsibilities – but the spell of summer is cracked, if not broken.

1976.  The price of gas was .59-cents/gallon; Apple Computer Company was formed; America was celebrating its 200th birthday; Paul McCartney was singing silly love songs and Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford to become the 39th President of the United States.  I remember the bicentennial and Jimmy Carter (dad kept an unopened can of Billy Beer for many years) and even at 10 I was a Beatles and Paul McCartney fan; the other things were not even blips on my radar.   The most important event of that and every other year was the last day of school.  The opening day of summer was field day -  when there were games on the playground, a special boxed lunch, ice cream and last moments with friends we wouldn’t see again until after Labor Day.  At the end of this exuberant day, signing yearbooks and a final bus ride, I experienced a child’s fleeting sadness which was quickly replaced by the anticipation of long summer days spent without textbooks, bells ringing and raised hands, the pepperminty smell of the janitor’s mop, hall passes and Miss Rossi telling me to pay attention.

During the days my siblings and I would be lost to the outdoors.  I would roam the four hills behind our house, dodging branches, mucking through the stream that trickled at the base of the hills searching for shell fossils and broken bits of glass and clay.  To cool down I’d spend some time poking through the dark corners of the old barn where the smell of horses – long gone – lingered, rabbit cages stood empty and discarded furniture was stacked in precarious piles layered in dust and cobwebs.  Most days the four of us would troop the mile of dirt road to the swimming pool, towels wrapped around our heads to keep off the deer flies that circled us the whole journey.  In the morning we’d start out all energy and anticipation; in the evening we’d trudge home, lungs aching with pool water and stomachs empty.  At least it was downhill.  We were brown as fall leaves.

Ohio has great, banging summer storms and heavy rain provided entertainment, too.  We’d get the okay from mom and head outside to stand in the downpour and wade into the water that collected in the depressions in the yard, the submerged grass swaying like seaweed.  The air was warm, the drops of rain cool and thick.  Lightning meant we had to come in until the sun broke through the thunderheads and the storm passed.

After dinner and while the light was still bright and yellow, we’d be back outside, riding bikes, playing with the dog or doing cartwheels and somersaults in the lawn beside the house.  Reluctant to go back inside, my brothers and sister would sometimes play “ghost in the graveyard,” and I could hear them moving around the yard, searching under bushes or behind trees.  I was too afraid to join in, but I’d sit on the wooden stoop and sometimes give a hint as to the ghost’s hiding place.  As the woods I played in all day yielded to night and became the domain of nocturnal creatures, the outdoors shrank to the small circle of light thrown by the lamp by the back door.  Raccoons appeared in the circle, pawing into the dirt of a flower bed, dipping hands into puddles of water.  Night was noisier than day: crickets; the pulsing hum of peepers, the guttural bursts from bullfrogs in the bog behind the hills, strange rustling sounds among the dried leaves.  A heavy moistness hung in the air.  Finally, worn out, to bed upstairs and the old wooden sashes wide open with a gently thumping fan working hard to pull in any hint of coolness.  I never had to wait for sleep to come.

Waking in the mornings to bright sunshine filtering through white curtains and the sound of the wooden stairs creaking as someone thumped downstairs to breakfast.  The dog lay at the bottom of the steps, waiting for her playmates to get up.  A summer day starting all over again in a seemingly endless procession.  Freedom, green grass, tall trees, warmth, carelessness, the promise of a day left unplanned; the spell of summer circa 1976.  

For more trivia on the year 1976 - and any other year - check out The People History.

2 comments:

  1. Ahhh, you captured my thoughts! Growing up in Oregon, the markers of summer were different, but the feelings were the same. Also similar are the odd emotions surrounding summer as experienced in adulthood. I desperately miss the complete absence of responsibility and the ability to have so much fun and belly laugh. The lived experience of aging has tarnished the joy. And I wonder, is that a necessary part of aging? Something that happens as you experience grief and loss? Or is it something that I've let happen? Thanks for your post.

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  2. Great post...the scenery a little different, but the joy that I hear was also the joy that I experienced during our Hawaiian summers. Thank you for the reminder of the days of my youth! Aloha, Connie

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