Long Ago Summer
Here’s the thing, for some reason I started to wax nostalgic the other night about summers gone by. I’m not sure what brought the flood of mostly sentimental longings and memories rushing to the forefront of my mind. Perhaps it was the thick, humid air, or the buzz of a mosquito, or the crack of a baseball against a well swung bat. I remembered the warm summer evenings when we got to stay out past nine because it was still light out. My mother would bring trays of crescent cut watermelon slices to us on the stoop where me and my compadres, six or seven awkward, free for the summer hooligans sat scheming about what to do next. We’d slurp the luscious, red flesh of the fruit and spit the seeds as far as we could under the moon and the street lights just coming to life.
The sounds of neighbors arguing, horns blaring, music drifting on woolen air that smelled of fresh mown grass and cigarettes. It made you think you could lose your mind if you didn’t find something to do. We all had legs that ached to move and hands that needed a job and over active imaginations that made every unusual car on the street full of kidnappers and the occasional passing airplane on its way to Istanbul.
Someone, it didn’t matter who, would suggest a game of Hide ‘n Seek because it was something to do on a sultry, sticky night when no one could sleep. We’d toss the melon rinds into the yard for the squirrels and cats and coyotes and wolves and then we’d scamper through the neighborhood. Boundaries were my house—because it was an end row and the last house on the block where the weird people lived with the one daughter with the greasy black hair who only came out that one Saturday to bury a headless Barbie Doll. The people who built the bomb shelter in the backyard and stocked it with Campbell’s soup and Band Aids. The only family that would survive the nuclear attack we all knew was coming.
Hide n’ Seek on my block was not a game for the faint of heart. It was all out war between the hiders and the seeker—one summer school parolee combing the usual places looking for a kid to tag and then chase back to the light pole—to base. Being on base was one of the best things summer vacation had to offer. There you were safe. Safe from anything anyone could dish out. All you had to do was yell, “On base,” and no one dared lay a hand you. It was code of the block.
Then, almost without exception, every single night someone would kick the light pole right in the sweet spot and all the lights would buzz off for a few minutes. It was like the great eyes that watched had gone blind and for exactly six and a half minutes the street was plunged into utter darkness. Only the inadequate bulbs of a few stoop lights cast a small ring of yellow that barely shown because the moths drawn to the light eclipsed any brightness they had in them.
But when the lights went out our simple game of hide ‘n seek became dangerous. No longer an innocent game it became a game of Catch ‘n Kill. Now everyone became a hider and everyone a seeker and our row was transformed to Lord of the Flies Avenue. When getting found meant getting tackled and pummeled like a piñata full of gumballs unless you reached base. The only thing that would save you was tagging base, tagging the blacked-out street light pole.
It was only the light that saved you.
Until some member of the tribe cried and went home and then one by our names were called from the stoop. It was time to go home.