Enough already of this gray and rain!
I am ready for a real summer, one with sun and humidity and sweat and watermelon and lightning bugs.
I remember summers of long ago, ones that seemed to last forever. My cousins, who lived in Kansas City, came to live at grandma’s house during those months. Gary, who is my age, and I went downtown to Cooper Drug Store every week to pick up the newest Batman and Superman comic books, and then we spent hours in the living room in front of the window fan playing Chinese Checkers and canasta. Libby and Patty, who are the same age, whined to grandma that we wouldn’t play with them, and Gary and I got in trouble.
My mother took us all to the pool almost every day to get out of the heat. Thayer didn’t have a public pool, but Fleta Park, who owned one of the two motels in town, opened up her motel pool to the public. For $25 per summer, a family could go to the Tally-Ho Motel pool from the time school was out until it started again in August.
We also loved the Fourth of July. Grandpa was a nut for fireworks; I have no idea how much he spent each year on “snakes,” sparklers, Roman candles, and firecrackers, but I’m pretty sure it was a lot. We spent each Fourth of July in pretty much the same way:
Three of us cousins gathered in the shade of the huge oak tree in grandma’s front yard, playing hide-and-seek, talking about the Fourth of July, and still missing, cousin. We knew if we waited long enough, she would run in, shrieking all the way, giving herself away and punishing herself to be “it” during the next game. We always moved away from the tree – home base – so she could not see us from her protected hiding spot.
We then heard the muffled sound of little girl’s size four sneakers, and then the shriek. Whoever was “it” touched the tree and called, “One-two-three on Patty!” We all collapsed laughing because her mouth and her feet worked together rather than independently; we knew we could count on that shriek as she ran. She was so predictable – but we never figured out that she was the real winner. We could never find her.
Grandma broke up our game, bringing us cold, cold watermelon. We sat in the yard, chewed upon by chiggers, and dribbled red, sweet juice down our chins. Sated and sticky, we then asked if it was time for fireworks. No. The sun was not quite gone. Our mothers used wet washcloths to rinse the watermelon juice off our hot little faces and hands, and then we attracted dirt that became mud on contact.
Gary always saw them first. “Look! Lightning bugs!” From the creaky old house, grandma brought us jars with holes in the lid to hold the captives.
We ran around the yard, capturing the live fireworks of the night. The jar held two or three, then seven or eight, lightning bugs. We began watching their magic as dusk disappeared into dark, awed as the lights flashed off, on, off, on, always the same color, never any fixed rhythm.
Then we let them go and started shooting fireworks. Because Gary was a boy, he was allowed to light fuses; because I was a girl, I was not, and that irritated me. Eventually, though, I forgot about that slight, as we wrote our names in the air with sparklers, watched Roman candles explode out of a Coke bottle, and lit “snakes” that burned scars in the front porch – scars that were still there when the house was sold some 10 years ago.
Those long-ago Fourths, and those summers, are still vivid for me. Obviously, things have changed. We and our cousins are not as close as we were – Patty now lives in Spokane, Washington. Fireworks are illegal in town. I don’t read Superman and Batman anymore, and I don’t remember how to play Canasta. But when summer rolls around, I long for sun, heat, watermelon, lightning bugs, jars with holes in the lids, and fireworks. This year needs to catch up.