THE QUESTION: What is your favorite childhood memory of summer?
I was seven when my family went camping for the first time. The six-month run-up included monthly arrivals of gear to our home ordered from Sears Roebuck. Sleeping bags and air mattresses, a camp stove and a green canvas umbrella tent that slept six.
When August finally came we were off to our adventures which led us far from the screeching of Chicago’s elevated trains to the quiet sunsets over Michigan’s lake with the rhythm of the waves lulling us into easeful sleep.
My first night camping, city kid raised in smog as I was, used to handfuls of visible stars, I was surprised into wonder by the mind-bending Milky Way and its humbling infinity of stars. I observed in sacred silence with my brother.
During the daytime we hiked through hilly terrain amazed by the beauty of paper birch trees. Enlivened by the scent of fir and pine we walked while imagining we were the first to explore this land.
Food was delicious fuel. The smell of mama’s bacon could raise the dead. On the road, we would stop at orchards and buy heavenly Hummel’s cherry cider.
I very soon decided, it’s the camping life for me!
Two glorious weeks.
Picking ripe blueberries.
Running up and down the hill 20 times a day to swim…dry off…swim.
Savoring creamy scoops of Gustafson’s Vanilla Ice Cream.
Smelling fresh pine.
Playing double solitaire with my sister and winning…losing…winning.
Listening to Copacabana on the Minong Café’s jukebox.
Sleeping in a brass bed.
Watching loons work their way across the lake, diving…calling…diving.
Fishing off the end of the pier.
Going into town with Dad.
Sitting on the screened-in porch and napping…reading…napping.
Catching a glimpse of deer.
Two glorious weeks.
Mrs Johnson had been talking to Mr Carlson in the late afternoon light, as the summer’s seeming endless glow waned in mid-August. It would soon be time for dinner.
But this afternoon, as the alley emptied of other children, I was alone with two grown-ups; my best friend’s mother and next-door-neighbor, standing in the center of the alley. His garage door was open. She had her arms crossed against her stomach. She did not always come out to talk, and tonight felt significant.
The alley was our safe place. Used by adults, owned by kids. These days, the houses of my childhood neighbourhood are dressed up and extended, but backstage, in the endless alleys, nothing much has changed. The broken pavement or predictable odd humps in the asphalt is flanked by garages and the rawness of personal lives.
On Nathan’s borrowed one-speed, I spent the whole afternoon trying to push off and ride. The adults drifted back into their own yards.
The day was strange. I knew dinner was imminent, but everything was on standby. I was late, but my mom had not called me in.
The handgrips felt good, and the promise of balance was just a foot in front of me. There.