Summertime: Like that brief moment when you first open your eyes in the morning, arch your back, and stretch. You hold it. You purr luxuriously. You try to prolong the delicious feeling. But it never lasts.
I learned the truth when I turned 12.
I grew up in the 60s when there were battalions of kids — children of war, baby boomers — swarming every block. Day after day from the time I was awakened by the milk man opening our back door at dawn to the tingling bells of the Good Humor ice cream truck slowly moving down our block at dusk, we played outside, incredulous about our uninterrupted span of time without coats, parents, or homework.
A kid’s concept of summer was of a vast, endless plain, filled with sidewalks for biking, trees for climbing, and “prairies” (neighborhood term for vacant lots) for exploring. We played free and wild but were wary of crossing invisible lines, lest we attract the attention of adults.
But it all went south in the summer of 1961.
Several times a week, we would ride our bikes to the park each morning to play baseball. We’d pack bologna-and-mustard sandwiches, a can of shoestring potato chips, and a gallon of red Kool-Aid in a glass milk jug, which I’d precariously transport by hanging from my handlebars. Sustenance was required because we’d play ball for hours. We would have played til twilight had our parents allowed us to pack our suppers as well.
On a sun-soaked weekday in August, while in the second inning of a game with four boys on a side (a ball hit to right field was an automatic out), Debbie Glick showed up, settling on the bench behind the chain link fence along the third base line. She wore a peach-colored top and bright white shorts.
John O’Neill, playing shortstop, turned, cupped his mouth with his hand, and said she was from St. John Fisher. Catholics, of course, lived in parishes, and Fisher was somewhere near the park. O’Neill was not great at baseball but was older than the rest of us, and he knew things. Between batters, he decided to leave the infield and trot over to where Debbie Glick was hugging her knees, the heels of her Keds — no socks — tucked in against the white shorts.
O’Neill rested one foot on the bench where she was sitting in order to talk.
“There’s only one out, John,” I called.
O’Neill did not turn around. But Debbie Glick tilted up her head and gazed toward the outfield. She turned back to O’Neill and smiled at something he said. She rocked once from side to side on the bench. She fixed the cloth purse beside her — more like a small beach bag — and threw back her head in order to smooth her long brown hair with her left hand.
I moved in a few steps from left field. We would play without him. Sure enough, my brother Kenneth hit a slow grounder through O’Neill’s vacated position and stretched it to a double. I called a timeout.
The Kool-Aid jug sat in the grass in foul territory, against the fence and opposite the bench. When I got there, I could hear O’Neill gossiping about some boy on St. John Fisher’s basketball team whom apparently both he and Debbie Glick knew.
Is that what you talk to girls about?
I lifted the jug with both hands and took a long drink and a longer look through the glass bottom to see what was wrecking our game: No more than one girl. With very white teeth. And sparkly earrings.
The cold drink left a sharp stitch in my gut. My eyes returned to her face, and the earrings disappeared momentarily when she leaned forward to nod and politely laugh at some other boring thing O’Neill said.
Then there it was again, at the intersection of ear and slender neck. A tiny sparkle, glinting behind the waterfall of hair shining in the sun. How such a small and fragile thing could give me a dizzy, soaring sensation, and I reached a steadying hand against the fence wire.
I turned to where the others were walking toward our bikes in the grass. I turned back, magnetized by the earrings. Debbie Glick’s bare knees touching each other.
Her eyes, omniscient fireflies, met mine.
O’Neill, yapping, oblivious.
Our game was ended.
September coming fast.
Summer, slipping away, would never be the same.
David McGrath is a former Hayward resident, an emeritus English professor at the College of DuPage in Illinois, the author of "South Siders," and a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. He can be reached at email@example.com.This column was first published in the Aug. 17 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.