Summer

We’ve been lucky so far: We’ve had a relatively mild summer compared to the hellish heat waves that the East Coast has had lately. We’ve now eased into August and, of course, all bets are off. In Southern California, anything can happen heat wave wise between now and November. We sort of skipped summer altogether last year, so we’ve been pushing our luck. I don’t mind warm summer days as long as they occur in the summer, not at Christmas, but spare me the drop-dead roasting triple-digit days that can drag on for weeks.

Summertime always brings me back to that wonderful sense of freedom – freedom from school, specifically the freedom from having to drag myself out of bed early every morning when mom or dad would rouse me. But ironically, it was in summer when I would awake at the earliest hours, and all by myself too. Not every day mind you, but once in awhile during the summer I loved to get up just before dawn, throw on my clothes and take a walk.

Everyone else was asleep, not only in my house, but in the entire world, or so it seemed. The sensation of being the only one awake in the world was exciting to me. Everything felt fresh and clean. The air — crisp, cool, delicious — tasted sweet in my lungs. My hearing was more acute, my sight sharper. And the quiet. Oh, the quiet was terrific. It was my own special time of day, comforting and invigorating and a little decadent, I felt more alive than at any other time.

In the early 1960s, it was still safe for an eleven or twelve-year-old kid to walk around alone at five or six in the morning in Burbank, California. I walked through the neighborhood to where the stores were on Hollywood Way in Magnolia Park. I passed Babbitt’s Nursery, Peggy Wood’s pet shop, and the Blarney Stone restaurant along the route of my dawn patrol.

Traffic signals were only flashing, still too early to operate normally. No airplanes, no cars and no joggers yet, not in those days —just me and some birds respectfully chirping softly somewhere out of sight. I kept my eyes peeled for police patrol cars; I knew they wouldn’t understand and would probably stop to question what a twelve-year-old boy was doing out alone at that hour. They never found me.

Summers were longer then. From June to September seemed like forever and that was fine by me. “Back-To-School” were the three little words I never wanted to hear. My summer days were filled with adventure: bike riding, playing with friends in the neighborhood, family trips, backyard barbecue, swimming and staying up late. And there were days when I’d stay outside playing with my friends until dinner time.

I didn’t mind the heat as much then. Maybe it’s just easier for kids. Kids can be more flexible to many things that adults find hard to adapt to. In any case, Southern Cal summers are different than are summers in other places. Our hot days usually melt into balmy evenings and, eventually, cool nights. But when the occasional evening would just refuse to cool down, we sought relief at the Foster Freeze down the block or sometimes the A&W Root Beer stand.

Our house didn’t have centralized air conditioning, but there was always a solution to the heat. Running through the sprinklers and drinking lemonade were two ways of dealing with it. Ice cream was another way we dealt with it. And ice cold watermelon was so refreshing, back when you could only get the melon with the black pits. I think watermelon tasted better then. I wonder if those pits had anything to do with it. But then, as clichéd as it sounds, all summer fruit tasted better. I haven’t had a plum worth eating in years.

Thinking back, there seems to have been a lot of lolling around the house during the summer, too. That used to be called “relaxing.” Are there any families that still do that, or is everyone too consumed with running around searching out new places to go to have fun? We used to have the majority of our “fun” at home. I have good memories of our family trips, but the bulk of my fond remembrances are the times at home with dad and mom and my brother and sister.

Summer hasn’t been the same since I grew up. Has the world changed? Or is it simply that summer is really a child’s season.

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