Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jeannene's Childhood Summers Freewrite

My last post was my 20-minute timed freewrite on what I used to love about summer. Jeannene and I were playing around with this in our hotel room this afternoon. She has graciously allowed me to post hers here, too, edited only for typos. I would love to see free writes on the same topic from any of you who want to play, too!

"As a child, when spring morphed so slowly into summer and summer was real and now, with dandelion covered hills, mosquitoes buzzing, bare feet, beans to be picked and POOL OPEN signs, I had no concept of it ever ending.  That first step into summer never felt like a path to anywhere ending at a time or place.  It was just a hot, frozen reality, a now with never a thought of later or an end, summer as a child was a real experience, from which you never ponder transitions.  I miss the peace of childhood summers when I was like a dog playing fetch, never thinking my master might tire of throwing the stick or the winds might chill and leaves might brown.  Summer was as much a state of never-ending experience as it was warmth, ice cream, flowers blooming, fireflies, campfires and the smell of chlorine in the bathroom from suits dripping dry night after night.  As a child in summer, I was never plagued with the worry of the bottom of the bowl of strawberry shortcake or the vaguest consideration of having anything more to do the next day than meet my best friend in the nursery to walk to our next adventure. 
Summer, as a child, was the taste of fresh berries and long grass stems between the molars.  Summer was the color of white foam water against the brown & green creekbed and the thousands of shades of red, yellow, green, blue and pink in the beds, in the fields, in the woods and along the road.  Summer was the cool water around my skin, the rough &, at times, cutting dried grass, and the welts & scabs itching & healing and the callouses thickening on the bottoms of my feet and my hands from walking and hoeing.  Summer was the sound of crickets and frogs all night long and the hum of bees and gurgling creeks all day long.  Summer was the smell of earth, the honeysuckle, the odd bitterness of drying swamps & skunk cabbage, the sweat of people and animals, and pies baking.   Summer was a never- ending sensory explosion without any thought further than the taste, smell, touch or delight of the moment.  I miss my summers as a child.

Summer was light, a lightness of heart and bounty of joy that only happens when you think no further than the feel of the slimy toad in your hand, the shared joy of jumping hand-in-hand into the pond with your best friend, the taste of ox roast sandwiches and Methodist Ladies’ cream pies at the fair.  Every year that passes pulls us further from those simple delights of summer to the fear of losing or never experiencing them again.  Childhood summers, with no thought of end, to my adult summers of worry and my incessant temporal awareness leaves a hole in my heart… and a pining for assurance of infinity."

What I Used To Love About Summer

Jeannene and I are hanging out in a lovely hotel room in Edinboro, PA, after having dropped Boot back off at college. We decided to take the weekend just to chill and relax. Last weekend was spent in my hometown so I could preach at a dear friend's ordination. We saw lots and lots of people, which was wonderful but definitely busy and a lot more extroverting than this weekend. This weekend, we have brought with us coloring books, colored pencils, word searches, a book of brain games, swimsuits, Elizabeth Berg's marvelous book on writing, Escaping Into the Open: the Art of Writing True, and a pile of novels.

We came in a blowing snowstorm, making the 5 hour trip from Michigan into an 8 hour odyssey, fraught with nerves over the slick roads and ominous drifts between us and vast expanses of frozen lake. We finally arrived at Boot's girlfriend's house at 2 a.m. Jeannene stopped the car and Boot busily transferred the sum of his belongings from our car to his and into the house. I, having been told just to tuck myself out of the way, maybe stay in the car and keep warm, obstinately stood in the driveway, out of the way. The just-past-full moon was magical as it lent a glittery twinkle to the blue-white snow skreeking underfoot and the air was full of the mouthwatering scent of fresh doughnuts wafting from the plant across town. We, being terribly suggestible, ended up with Krispy Kremes from the gas station before we began the half-hour final leg of our the journey to bed.

We luxuriated in sleeping in after turning out the lights at 4 a.m., arising just in time to make the free breakfast. The rest of the day was spent poking around both town and campus. We loaded ourselves up with swag from the college bookstore, had an excellent lunch at the Crossroads Dinor (I will probably never get the NW Pennsylvania spelling), looked in a few shops, and had drinks at the Empty Keg (where we got to admire the bartender's multi-lingual tattoos). Then, I suggested some timed writing in the room. We settled in to our computers, set an alarm to alert us after 20 minutes, and ran with the theme, "What I Used to Love About Summer." We each had a wonderful picture of our childhood summers at the end of the 20 minutes. Here is mine, unadulterated aside from typo correction. I hope you enjoy a peek at my childhood summers in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

When I was a kid, summer was wide open, magical! We kids would spend all day running around, a gaggle of lawless amerugins, in no need of parents, if only for those free hours. We would pop out of bed early, down our Cap’n Crunch and Super Sugar Smacks and Froot Loops---and, for a few unfortunates with hardcore hippie parents, muesli. Now, of course, I will happily take it, but back then, anything that could have come from 9th House Life Foods was infinitely inferior to things we could find at Weaver’s. Once fueled up, we would meet at Willow’s or on my porch or in the green space behind the AME church. We would come bearing towels, clad in swimsuits, with perhaps a bottle of Coppertone with an SPF of, oh, 2. I often had a book, for the terrible rest periods that tortured us throughout our days at Gaunt Park pool. We would walk, or ride bikes if we were so inclined (but never me), down High Street and cut over by the Bill Brown apartments, where the road curved around to dump us out almost directly in front of the pool.

Once we had paid our dollar and received our locker key, marvelously attached to a numbered metal pin I always thought was really cool (what I wouldn’t give to have one of those pins now to play with in my altered art), we would find a spot in the grass where we could spread out our towels. Then, yelping with glee, we would slip, slither, or cannonball into the water joyously! We would send hour upon hour in that clear, cool blue. We would race from end to end, swimming like speedy little minnows under the water, leaping like dolphins with a giant sploosh out of the water. We would toss in quarters and dive like maniacs, seeking to be the first to reach the glistening discs. We would sit underwater and hold hands, in a circle, and pretend to be mermaids. We would giggle at the ridiculous boys’ antics (and I would silently give thanks that my swimsuit was not the blue and white gingham bikini with the ties Todd always liked to undo). We would have tea parties under the surface, seeing if we could talk to one another, holding our pinkies in the air like fine ladies, giggling again as we bobbed up to the surface, unable to defeat our naturally buoyant child bodies. We would challenge one another to break the surface with eyes wide open. We would toss one another high above the surface. We would see how very many times we could somersault forwards, now backwards. We would perform gymnastic feats like cartwheels and handstands and even walk on our hands for as long as we could.

Then, the whistle would blow. We would, reluctantly, dragging our feet and groaning about the unfairness, shimmy out of the pool, climbing up ladders and pullig ourselves up on the edge. We would sit on towels, griping about the heat, watching the adults luxuriate in the kid-free pool, the vast expanse of luscious water, while we sweltered on our little patches of terrycloth real estate. When we hadn’t already spent our allowances at Grote’s or the Ott Shop or Erbaugh and Johnson, we would rush down the painfully knobbly blacktop path leading to the parking lot at the bottom of the hill and patronize the little concession stand. This place was a treasury of frozen Snickers bars, grape Tangy Taffy, Pixie Sticks (oh, those giant ones!), barbeque potato chips, and, if memory serves, even hot dogs. We would take our selections back up the hill and eat as we stared down the adults like vultures circling some delectable dying creature. When there was no money, we sullenly occupied our towels, or went out and rolled down the fireworks hill (ah, another glory to love in the summer of my Yellow Springs childhood, those magical fireworks!), or pumped and pumped to try to reach the sky on the swingset. Then, that siren call of the lifeguards’ whistles! By then, most of us had begun to hover around the edges of the pool, sometimes earning stern looks for dipping too much leg in before permission was granted. We returned to our games.

When evening came and the pool closed, we would drift home, a chlorine-scented gang of red-eyed rapscallions. Soggy towels draped over our shoulders, we would skip and dance our way home, delighting in the beginnings of cooler evening air. We would stop and smell the flowers, perhaps bringing some home to the lucky mom who got to host our roving bunch for dinner that night. We would have Ha Ha Pizza at my place or spaghetti with dread tofu chunks in the sauce at Willow’s, then climb out her kitchen windows to sit on the roof and watch the moon rise or pile out the back door and across the porch to my yard, anchored by a giant sugar maple and ablaze with fireflies.