The Coming of Summer

Summertime…. and the livin’ is easy….

So goes the old tune. But that was a long time ago.

In these days of hustle and bustle, there is never any time for ‘living easy’… every day is hard work and a struggle to get by (unless you’re fabulously wealthy, in which case you have nothing to worry about in the first place.)

As a kid, summertime meant walks to the public swimming pool. Dad’s backyard full of rose bushes and green spongy grass to play upon. Music playing from the AM radio that dad installed on our garage. Bike rides and sandboxes and Matchbox cars. “Mother May I” and “Kick the Can” and “Red Light Green Light.” Swinging on the the swingset.

That’s when the living was easy.

As I approach my 35th summer on our fair planet, I can’t help but recall, once again, what it was like to run outside of my parents’ back door and know that the world expected nothing more of me but to play. And play I did.

My dad put a swingset at the far south end of our backyard when I was about three years old. It was one of those wonderful metal sets, the kind you can’t get anymore, since everyone now fears them tipping over or rusting and falling apart on the little ones. It never happened — save for one time when I was standing on a crossbar and slipped. I landed in a not-so-comfy spot. If you know what I mean.

We had two swings, a teeter-totter, and a swinging horse. A couple of years later, Dad added a slide. Each morning, my sister, Beth (when she was old enough) and I would wolf down our breakfasts and burst out the back door for a day of fun.

The backyard, and moreso the swingset, was where every day started.

After a while of swinging and jumping and pumping the set til it nearly tipped over, (Dad had put anchors into to ground at each post, which was actually fruitless, since they only anchored into the soil and not into any type of concrete), we would decide what to do next. There were no schedules. no hours, no appointment books or daily planners. We just made everything up as we went along.

Most days involved running next door to see if our friend Becky could play. Of course, she always did. Becky was one year younger than me, and one year older than Beth. The three of us were inseparable. We did everything together. If we built a fort, Becky was there with us. If we played wiffle ball, Becky joined in. If we rode bikes, we always did it together. It was almost like I had two sisters.

Of course, that probably explained a lot about my toy preferences. I never much cared for G.I. Joe dolls or smash-em-up cars or anything extremely boyish. I played with Barbies and Little People, just as often as I played with Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars, because Beth and Becky liked to play with those, too.

Fortunately for me, Beth and Becky weren’t girly-girls. They liked to play rough. They got their fingers dirty. They scuffed their knees.

There weren’t many boys my age in my neighborhood. The closest was a boy named Brian who lived a few houses away from me. He was a year older than me, and although a Super 8 film shows that we were friends once upon a time, as long as I can remember, he and I were at odds. He teased me about anything and everything, and I retaliated by slugging him. That pretty much ended any chance of a friendship.

There was another boy named Mike who lived a few more houses away. He was also a year older, but he was closer to Brian than anyone else, and whatever Brian did, he did too.

Kitty-corner from where Mike lived was where Timmy and JoAnne lived. Timmy and JoAnne were the youngest in a fairly large Italian family and were often at our house, and we were often at theirs. We went to the same Catholic school, and carpooled with their mom in the mornings, and our mom afterward. Their mom was the neighborhood busybody. She knew everything about everyone and wasn’t shy about it. My mom never liked her much. She always said “If Yolanda could print a newspaper, she’d make a killing.”

As we all got older, I eventually befriended Mike, and suddenly my sister and I were invited to play games with all the neighborhood kids. This usually involved a game like “Kick the Can” or “Stuck in the Mud” or some other variance of “Tag”… but it was always so much fun.

The neighborhood kids all got along fine for a couple years, and then one day, it all stopped. Beth got into a huge fight with JoAnne about something — what it was, to this day, I still have no idea– and JoAnne went home crying to her mother. From that day forward, Timmy and JoAnne were forbidden to come to our house, and upon hearing that, our parents likewise forbade us to go to theirs. A rift was started, and we never played with most of the neighborhood kids again.

Becky remained our friend. We switched Catholic schools when I was in 6th grade and started going to the same one as Becky. We carpooled with her just as we had done with Timmy and JoAnne before.

And as grade school progressed to high school, the swingset, that was always the center of everything for us, finally was taken down. The worn spots where our feet dragged in the dirt were filled in, and we planted a crabapple tree for my mom that following Mothers’ Day. Life was changing, and summers would never be the same again.

When I wander through my parents’ backyard today, and I see the grand tree that has grown where the swingset once stood, I can still hear us laughing, and playing, and enjoying the precious summertime. I can still smell my dad’s roses blooming, still hear the music playing from the garage speaker. I can still see the sheets and towels drying in the summer breeze on my mom’s clothesline, and I can smell the freshness of the dried fabrics after an afternoon of soaking in all those wonderful rays and smells.

And I’m reminded of those summers as a kid, when the biggest drama in life was whether or not to play in the sandbox, or to take a bike ride. When my greatest concern was whether the kids would play a game or we would go swimming.

Everything changes, and we all grow up. But memories of when “livin’ was easy” will never escape us.

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