It’s getting old

Monday 4 September 2017 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Labor Day

Let’s call a spade a spade, dear readers. Summer is getting old. 

For children, summer gets old sooner than it does for adults. In elementary school, I would count the days until summer vacation like all the other kids (and now I realize our teachers did as well). No kid plans the events of summer vacation. I was no different. You just do whatever you feel like doing until you no longer feel like doing it (within boundaries, of course). During summer vacation, I bored easily. My poor mother. I still have the attention span of a hummingbird. 

My earliest memories of summer vacation go back to the time we lived in a second floor cold-water flat. There wasn’t much outdoor space. There were no parks or playgrounds. The gaps between the triple-deckers were measured in inches. Any grass hoping to become a lawn soon gave up. Nothing grew but a few scraggly weeds — and these had to be extraordinarily tough to survive. You and your friends went outside and played in the dust with your toy trucks or, if it had rained, you built castles in the mud. And so you spent summer vacation. There was nothing to report when you went back to school.

Then we moved into a row house in the public housing project. This meant there were plenty of other kids with which to play. When one of your buddies wanted you to join him in some great summer afternoon adventure, he would stand outside your unit and chant your name. For some reason, the chant was always three syllables. You were expected to respond by opening the door or coming to the window. We would never think of telephoning and there was no such thing as texting. 

Once buddies had assembled, there were endless possibilities for fun. You could ride your bikes. You could chase each other around like crazy people until somebody got hurt or until your mother called you home for supper. For even greater excitement, you could cross the street.

Across one street was The Sandbank. It was just a mound of excavated earth left over from some building project. There you could practice your mountain climbing skills until the cows came home or, more likely, until the street lamps came on.

If you hankered for something even more adventurous, you could cross the other street. There you could explore all the mysteries of the Myrtle Street dump. The stench was a bit of a problem until you got used to it, but startling the flocks of seagulls was always an adrenaline rush. 

While you could make friends with some kids in the projects, others had to be avoided. They were known to sneak up behind you like ninjas, push you into open cisterns, and then run off laughing. This only happened to me twice before we moved to the country.

“The country” was the north end of the city. It wasn’t rural by any means. There were, however, yards with grass and trees. You could go out at sunset, equipped with a jar with a perforated cover, on a firefly hunting expedition. You could pitch a makeshift tent in the vacant lot next door and spend the night in the wilderness. You could play badminton or horseshoes. You could climb the old pear tree or hang out under the grapevine trellis. There was even a swing set the previous owner had left behind. It was built from very strong pipes. It may still be there. Nobody played video games.

It was at about this age that I discovered the public library was within walking distance. I would come home on a summer’s afternoon with an armful of books. I had, shall we say, eclectic tastes in reading materials. No science books for me. No yucky novels. Perhaps a classic adventure story or two. “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Robinson Crusoe” come to mind; and “Treasure Island” and “The Last of the Mohicans.” 

I enjoyed the nature books of Hal Boland, and the wistful reflections of Gladys Taber. Among my very favorite books were those by comedic authors — anything by Erma Bombeck or Giovannino Guareschi (the “Dom Camillo” series). These authors are hilarious. I laughed out loud. 

I also took great interest in books like “Seven Story Mountain,” “Diary of a Country Priest,” “Roads to Rome,” and “Keys to the Kingdom.” 

Now that I think about it, there appears to have been common themes: religion, humor, daily life, nature. 

Summer is a goner. School begins. Teachers ask, “What did you do on summer vacation?” Kids answer, “Nothing.” 

As a young kid on summer vacation, I did “nothing” as well. I did, however, make unusual choices in summer reading. And just look where that led me: A Catholic priest quietly sitting on a porch somewhere on Cape Cod, his dog beside him, musing about the simple joys and challenges of ordinary life. Who could have guessed?

Seems what you read shapes who you are, or is it the other way around? 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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