Wednesday, May 20, 2009

summertime memories

I was thinking back the other night about how much I loved this time of year as a child. It was so close to the end of the school year that you'd think you would go crazy before it got to that final day. In retrospect, I'm sure our teachers felt the same way. But back then, teachers were fearsome creatures for the most part, with helmet hair, firm foundation wear, heels and nylons. I was absolutely terrified of most of them. Our mother was a stay-at-home mom, as most women were in the early 60's. That one particular summer, there was a mixture of good and bad memories. My sister got her first car, which was...i think an old blue Ford Galaxie maybe. The only thing I remember was that someone had painted desert sunsets on both visors, done in oil paints. Kinda like automotive paint by number. That impressed the heck out of me. That was also the summer of skateboards. My brother Joe was the only one to possess a REAL skateboard, which I was warned off of by pain of death. So I tore apart some old roller skates, got Daddy's saw and a 1X4 board, and made my own very ghetto version of a skateboard. I seem to recall an alarming number of skinned knees and elbows. There was also the guilty pleasure of illicit rides snuck on Joe's skateboard while he was at football practice.
My first BIG bicycle was that summer too. And I mean, BIG. Wish I had it back. It was one of those old cruisers with balloon tires and nifty handlebar streamers. The cool kids had Stingrays, the girls being the pink ones with sissy baskets which i secretly envied. There was a ravine at the end of our street that led into a wooded area that was forbidden, therefore constantly explored by all of us. I don't remember ever seeing a grownup down there, it was the Never-Never Land of our street and we were the Lost Boys, so to speak. I guess Paul was Peter Pan because he was absolutely, totally fearless. The rite of passage was to successfully navigate the ravine. The ravine had a track worn in it from kids riding their bikes down this one spot. You had to get up a good head of steam to actually make it from one side to the other without wiping out. Imagine an enormous half-pipe with trees and brambles. There was a pretty long straightaway to get up to supersonic speed, then flying downhill. a heart-stopping flight up to the other side. If you were lucky, you made it up the other hill. If not, you and your bike rolled/fell over into the ravine. Not a good thing. Bones got broken there. I guess I will never forget the feeling of invincibility when I finally managed to get that enormous, slow blue bike up that hill.

I had a pretty wild imagination, and Mama had accumulated some old party dresses and stuff for me to play dress-up with. In my imagination I was everything from Scarlett O'Hara to a Spanish Dancer to a banshee (white sheets. Irish thing.) This was normally a covert activity since I got teased unmercifully by my brothers and the older kids in the neighborhood. I had actually gone outside in Spanish Dancer mode (red ruffly dress, my sister's high heels, and a comb stuck in my hair with a curtain over it. ) There I was, on the sidewalk, when one of the cool teenage girls rode by on her bike. But this time instead of laughing at me, she just slowed down a little, smiled at me and rode by. I now realize that look on her face was a longing for younger days. That was the day that we got the bad news. My sister's best friend's brother was in Vietnam at the ripe old age of 18. He'd had the cool car, the cool hair, just a cool dude. Kinda like Paul LeMatt in American Graffiti. He stepped on a landmine that summer and came home in a box. His little sister was in one of my classes at school. She didn't talk that next year.
That next year was the one where the cool girls drifted away from the awkward ones, they destined to be prom queens and Playboy bunnies, us destined to be the artsy weird musical ones. I think I got a lot more mileage out of my lifestyle choices, personally. It gave me some quirky, artsy, blindingly intelligent children who are a total joy to me. And those cool chicks? Mostly grandmas like me. If they're very, very lucky.

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