Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

Longtime readers may remember this post from three years ago. I’m very much feeling the end-of-summer blues this year and this explains the roots of my affliction. I’ve updated this post a little to keep current with the times.

During my 1970s kidhood when schools started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry spring’s tender greenery, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs. The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes and we all began to squeeze in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Armsalways organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, land on my back, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”) hoping to squeeze out another laugh. And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive
Summertime children on Lancaster Drive

Sure, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew) the day after school started too. We simply lost most of our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.

Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. My kids are back in school (since a few days after my birthday, what nonsense). The telethon has come and gone, although Jerry Lewis isn’t welcome there anymore. The grass hasn’t grown much in weeks because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ considerable deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.

Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!

The good really outweighed the bad growing up on Rabbit Hill. Read that story.


16 thoughts on “Summer’s denouement

  1. Dani says:

    *Sigh* Soon it will be time to say goodbye to our beloved friend Summer. Until then I will embrace what quality time we have left together.

  2. Jim's Brother says:

    But Fall meant new school supplies! Leaves changing color! Jumping in piles of leaves! Starting to plot your Halloween costume! Random crushes on cute girls in class! THE. NEW. SATURDAY. MORNING. CARTOOOOOOOOOONS!!!!!

    I’m not knocking Summer. But Fall always rocked!

    • Dude, no matter what new cartoons came along, you always made me watch the StuporFriends. Season after season. Good lord, man.

      Though I did always like getting new pens.

  3. Chris Rowland says:

    I was shocked to find out that at our new school district here in Cincinnati, my boys actually started school this year the day after Labor Day! This meant that since we moved from Indiana this spring where they got out a week before Memorial Day, they had the longest summer vacation, EVER!

    • I wouldn’t mind going back to see it through adult eyes. I’m sure I’d find some rough edges that I either couldn’t see then or that have faded in my mind as bad memories often do.

    • It’s funny how even though you were a couple blocks away, your part of Miami Hills seemed like a whole different universe to me. Seems a shame now that I didn’t branch out more.

  4. Keith O'Neil says:

    Nice column, Jim. It brought back memories of my childhood in north Florida. Obviously we didn’t get the cold weather you got in Indiana, but I remember days when the water in the roadside ditches would freeze hard enough to walk on. We lived in a small neighborhood, just two streets perpendicular to each other, and there were tons of kids. It was the baby boom, after all. Riding bikes, playing football in the front yard, “500” in the street, climbing trees, walking to the Junior store to buy candy. We’d disappear for hours, and never think anything of it–and our moms didn’t worry. Or if they did, they never showed it. Those days are gone forever, and it’s a shame. Kids growing up today (mine are 17 and 13) will never know what a real childhood should be like.

    • Keith, my sons can play in the streets here and climb trees and all that, but our suburban neighborhood dumps out onto “the big road” which limits their mobility. The nearest store is a Walgreens about 1.5 miles away, but I’ve never let them ride their bikes over there because of the traffic. Whenever they need to go somewhere, I have to take them. I lament the lack of autonomy they have because of the suburban lifestyle. It’s a form of sheltering that I think does them no good.

  5. You had a great childhood, didn’t you? Wonderful memories!

    It’s going to be 44 degrees tonight. I have a flannel shirt on. Windows are all closed (they were open wide yesterday). Even my chickens are roosting up close to eachother.

    I get so depressed during this time of year. It’s not the fall season, it’s what’s after the fall season.

    • It’ll be 44 tonight here, too. I’ve had the windows open tonight in brash defiance, but finally it got too cold and I had to shut them.

      My blues at this time of year are also all about anticipation of the cold weather to come.

  6. I am always a finicky thing. I complain about the heat all Summer. Now it’s chilly and cloudy and looking like Fall is creeping in, and all I want is a hammock and a lemonade.

    • I try not to complain about the heat, but it was hard this year as we had like a month of 90+ degree days. I kept remembering that it was better than freezing my can off in the winter.

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