Stories Told

Summer’s denouement

I first shared this story on 14 September 2008, and have shared it three other times since. I also shared it in my book, A Place to Start — click here to learn more.

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 all that had been green, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.

Summertime children on Lancaster Drive. August 1976.

The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes. We squeezed in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms, always 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, 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!”). And then the Jerry Lewis telethon was on everybody’s TV. It was Labor Day weekend, and we all knew it was over.

Rabbit Hill in 2010. The house I grew up in is on the right side, white with blue trim.

On the day after school started, 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). But we didn’t, hardly. We lost 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. Kids have been back in school for weeks already. The grass hasn’t grown much lately because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was 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’ 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!

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6 thoughts on “Summer’s denouement

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    “…school started after Labor Day, as God intended…”

    Never a truer phrase! Sometimes things that seem inconsequential, like changing the start of school by a week or more, to the other side of a holiday, can bring monumental changes in the perceptions and attitudes of how things happen. When I look back at my life, even tho I wasn’t in grade or high-school when this happened, it still seemed to impact the whole feeling of the year. Like deciding Christmas should be in June.

    The “fall” is my favorite season, maybe because I don’t like the heat and humidity, and love the fall colors. A lot of my memories seem to cover overcast days with bright changing leaves.

  2. I enjoyed the summers when I was growing up in rural Oklahoma but my favorite season and locale now are winter at the Jersey Shore. The metamorphosis of the year round community with the departure of the visiting crowds never fails to fascinate.

  3. Jim, hello! I haven’t commented in so long, but your blog is one of my favorites to read. I’m glad that you have been writing more. Also, happy belated birthday!

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