Summers were the best.
Now, we understood the importance of school from an early age. All of us. Even Buddy Wiggleton admitted it was a “necessary evil.”
We loved our elementary teachers, appreciated the junior high ones and had matured enough to “grade” the high school teachers based on their style, likeability, knowledge of subject material, classroom demeanor and grading techniques. It helped their score if they were also fond of us.
This is not a treatise on avoiding the classroom.
It’s a nod to the great outdoors. It’s a remembrance of the freshness of an early June morning in West Tennessee in our formative years. It’s a tribute to the friends who made life worth living. And a grateful tip of the hat to a small town that first loved us.
Summers were magic back then.
In the early years, we’d lie on our backs and watch the clouds go by. Sometimes we’d see animals, wild Indians or a hydrogen bomb explosion hiding in the mist. We wondered aloud how long it would take a cloud to float from New York City to our little corner on Stonewall Street.
You wouldn’t believe the number of trees we climbed just because they were there.
We discussed important things like do hogs have memories; which would melt first, a rock or a magnet; and if you shoot a .22 rifle straight up in the air, will the bullet be traveling at the same rate of speed when it hits the ground as it was when it left the barrel.
We didn’t dwell at all on what happened yesterday. And we were not almighty interested in what might come along in July or August. Listen, you get to thinking like that, you might miss what was right in front of you!
Some days we’d just start walking towards town… something would come up. If we could find a flat piece of cardboard we’d slide down the steep slopes behind the swimming pool. Some mornings we’d cut across by Bethel and walk the railroad tracks up to the City Café.
Mr. Jack Cantrell would speak to us. Dr. O. C. Wells waved as he entered his office. Mr. John McAdams gave us a friendly “howdy” from his tractor place. Mr. Howard Freeman would ask with a big smile when were we going to get old enough to come in his store and buy a shirt and tie…
You’d a’thought we were the most important people in town!
Baseball in those idyllic summer days came to us naturally… or by Divine Intervention. I have spent a lifetime reading through Leviticus and Deuteronomy searching for the answer to that one. I know we took to it like a duck to water; Popeye to a can of spinach; a Kentucky gray bat to Mammoth Cave… You would not believe how judiciously we chose up sides! We kept score and played like life itself depended on each pitch.
I don’t remember the outcome of one game today. It’s funny how unimportant that has become. But I can still see John Ingram rounding first base on a shot up the alley. I can see Bobby Brewer sliding into second; Larry Ridinger camping under a high fly; Billy Bradley arguing a close play at home; sweat dripping off Don Melton’s chin…
I’m telling you, those summers still live!
All the girls I dated in my junior high and high school “days of summer” were going to hold a parade up Broadway Street in my honor last July. But I don’t know… something happened, they had to call it off… one of the girls got sick and the other one had to work!
As we grew bigger, Mr. Manley paid us to pick strawberries, Dwyane Melton put us in his hay fields, Roe Alexander gave us jobs at the aforementioned swimming pool. You could always cut a yard for a couple of bucks.
This work disrupted our ballgames AND our dating. You’d think we would be upset or at least a bit out of sorts about that turn of events. But actually we appreciated the spending money and independence it brought. I could buy Levi’s now and Bass Weejuns… with my own money!
It was a good feeling. To contribute. To have a steady job. You felt better about life – like you belonged. We were older. Not grown up by any stretch, but moving in the right direction.
Sometimes we learned more in the summer than we did during the school year… and we didn’t have to take a test at the end of the week!
I hear folks complain about summers today. It’s hot; too many flying insects; tempers flare over politics; long lines at the fancy restaurants; sweating to death just bringing in the groceries…
Not me. I’m too busy revisiting the wonderful friends, the unbelievable places and the indescribable good times that abound in my summer memory bank…