When I was a kid, I lived for the hot days of summer.
After school (we had year-round school back then), Jeff and I would hop on our bikes and ride over to the housing development to play with the Lams, the Zimmers, the Piersons, and the other kids on the street.
We’d meet on our bikes, all of us oblivious to the sun. With our shirts off we’d race from the Barnhardts’ to the Big Tree. We’d play in the fields: dirt-clod wars that only ended when someone was hurt such that we had to seek medical attention from an adult (and, inevitably, endure the adult’s reprimands). Sometimes when Shawn Carlson was allowed to play, his father would let us go see the wrecking yard. We’d tell horrible stories about the neighbors. Somtimes we’d even talk about girls.
Once or twice each summer we’d venture all the way down to Gribble Creek where we’d look for bugs (plenty) and fish (none) or play with twigs and branches. One time we found an old rowboat, and I nearly drowned while trying to climb inside.
Other times we’d traipse back to Grandpa’s woods to play hide and seek, or to climb the trees, or to build forts, or to look at the pond. The Lams’ woods, too, were fun to play in, if the undergrowth less dense, less exciting. Torey and Brent had a genuine tree fort ideal for dirt-clod wars or, when we were older and stupider, BB-gun wars.
We’d pick blackberries from the ever-present vines. We’d pop tar bubbles on the pavement. We’d hunt for pop cans on the side of the road, hoping to find enough to buy a drink of our own at Charlie’s Grocery. When we’d find pop bottles, though, we’d break them, hold them over our heads and shatter them on the asphalt.
We’d play wiffle ball on our front lawn, and soccer, and football, all of them in the heat of summer. On the hottest days, we’d play inside at someone’s house: games on the Atari or the Commodore 64. We’d watch Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and when we were older, we’d listen to Led Zepplin and ELO and Styx.
When we’d had our fill of games and fun, we’d gather beneath the Big Tree, an oak at the bend in the road midway between our trailerhouse and the housing development. Its branches were huge and gnarled, its root structure contorted to create enticing nooks and crannies. We’d climb the tree, and hide in the root system, but mostly we’d just recline against the trunk, soaking in the coolness of the shade after our day of adventure. Often we’d each have a bottle of pop.
One summer we discovered a paper sack at the base of the tree. We couldn’t believe what the sack contained: girlie magazines and lots of them! Playboy! Hustler! Others we’d never heard of! Manna from heaven — we were ten, twelve, eight, six. To us, this stuff was gold.
That summer, the Big Tree was the most popular destination in the neighborhood. Those magazines were sacred; none of us took them home. They were safe where they were, a communal treasure, to be treated with respect and awe. From these magazines, I learned a lot about anatomy, about sex, but it’d be years before I could apply the knowledge. (Surprisingly, the magazines were still there the following summer, albeit much worse for wear after a winter of rain and wind.)
This summer, though, I’ve been enjoying the heat for the first time in many years.