Local View: A long, hot, boring summer
Summertime and the living is tedious. As far back as I can remember, summer has been a long, hot wasteland with little accomplished and little advanced, save for one's own sense of boredom. With no school and nothing to do, my mother made it wors...
Summertime and the living is tedious.
As far back as I can remember, summer has been a long, hot wasteland with little accomplished and little advanced, save for one’s own sense of boredom. With no school and nothing to do, my mother made it worse by adding chores to days without end.
Some mornings I called for Leslie Hallerhan at his house across the street. Thin and freckled, he was not like my big-headed brothers, boasting all the time. Instead he showed me the footholds for climbing the giant maple tree in his front yard. Fearless, he ascended to the highest bough while I stayed safely beneath him. There we sat wrapped around limbs where we could waste a full morning spying on the neighborhood.
Leslie said he could see the whole world from his perch, and he asked what I would do if I were king of the world. I said I’d buy a 100-foot swimming pool with a slide and a waterfall in our yard. And then I’d buy all the Butterfinger candy bars at Baker’s Food Mart and invite everyone I knew.
I felt Leslie shift in our tree. He declared that first he would close school for good and then send his knights to find and bring his mother back home.
Of course, we couldn’t really see the whole world from the treetop, though just about the entire block: Mrs. DiBennardi hanging blue sheets on the clothes line in her backyard. Mrs. Russell pulling weeds out front while her kids Dianne and Terrence drew chalk pictures on the sidewalk. And there was officer Len Davis, home from the night shift, wearing a catcher’s mitt and warming up his only son, Booger - he called him Robert - who was an all-star pitcher in Little League.
Once, my mother stuck her head out the front door, calling my name, probably so I could scrub the stairs or scrape the gutters. She turned her head left and right, and I didn’t say a word, since she couldn’t see me through the leaves and branches.
And then I felt guilty and sad when she narrowed her eyes with worry, not knowing I was watching.
We’d waste five hours up in that tree, since there was nothing at all to do on those barren days of summer.
The week Leslie visited his mom somewhere in Pennsylvania, I spent every day with Bob Remiasz, who lived next door. Bob was holed up in his basement, building a Flying Tiger model airplane with a gasoline engine. I helped by gluing together pieces of balsa wood.
Even at age 10, Bob was meticulous, directing me to paint each scrap of wood with about a hundred coats of primer - or “dope,” as he called it, because of the way it made you lightheaded if you smelled it too long.
A million hours later, when the aircraft was finally finished, we took it to the sandlot baseball field next to the car wash where Bob grasped the plastic handle at the end of the two fishing lines that controlled the tail wings and then walked to the pitcher’s mound. I knelt in the dirt and started the engine by twirling the propeller with my index finger till it revved up.
We screeched like orangutans when it swooped into the air, making a complete revolution, buzzing like a chainsaw, ’til it did a backflip and crashed along the third base line.
That very afternoon, we rode our bikes to the hobby shop, using up all my allowance to buy more balsa and another can of dope so we could start all over again with the gluing and the painting, all for another few seconds of rapture.
A couple of nights, we got some relief from the humidity and boredom when the old man was listening to an extra-inning ball game on the radio and he’d forget to round us all up. We played hide and seek: Bob and my brother James and Linda Landel, a year older, whose father spent every hour after work rehabbing a cabin cruiser in the driveway, which they resolved someday to tow to the lake.
In the cooling hour before the mosquitoes descended, Bob and Jimmy and I were uncharacteristically quiet, not razzing each other, not spitting everywhere. Nor did I hide in Hallerhan’s maple tree, so Linda would have no trouble finding me in the dark, since she had this sweet, crooked smile and glossy brown hair that smelled like peaches when she got close enough.
When the game ended, the old man would holler for us to come inside, wash up and get ready for bed.
And if it didn’t rain, I’d keep the window open, lying still to feel every breeze, eyes shut tight, deep into the night, a stew of longing and wonder swirling inside.
Restless for another summer day finally to end. Impatient for my life as a grown-up finally to begin.
Since, of course, I did not know any better.
David McGrath lived in Hayward for 29 years, is a frequent contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page, is an emeritus professor of English for the College of DuPage in Illinois and is the author of “Siege at Ojibwa” and “The Territory.” Contact him at profmcgrath2004@ yahoo.com.