Friday, December 11, 2009

Summer Memories

Summer Memories © Nita Risher McGlawn

My mental childhood scrapbook is made of snippets of time, kitchen aromas, kites in the spring wind with daffodils and wild onions breaking through the cool earth. Easter Sundays were complete with dyed eggs, baskets and hats. My charmed childhood consisted of our mama cat, Smokey’s, snuggly kittens, golden autumns with crunchy leaves underfoot, Friday night football, summer trips to Granny’s and the beach, and Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays with family friends when we didn’t travel back to Mobile to visit my grandparents. It was a social necessity in my small Arkansas town to have close friends and a “best friend” was expected. It was an unspoken rule. I usually found it impossible to limit myself to one, but that summer in the late sixties, Vicki was it. Time at her house was carefree.

After a year of junior high academia and shared classes, Vicki and I became great buddies. As my father would have said, we were “tight as Dick’s hat band.” Vicki, her mother, and sister, Cindy, lived in a big house nestled cozily in a family commune of sorts. Emma Kate, Vicki’s mom, was a Southern lady with manicured nails, a drawl, and gravelly laughs. She was fun and let Vicki drive the car. Cindy had an infectious giggle and laughed at all of my jokes. She, like me, was the younger of two sisters. Relatives owned houses close by. Aunts, uncles, and cousins were only steps away. There was even a horse or two. I was in awe. It might as well have been the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. All of my cousins were 3 states and at least 8 hours of hot travel away, via the steamy Louisiana/Mississippi Delta. Most of my first cousins were what I considered...well, for lack of better words...Alabama white trash. Vicki’s family had ties to Arkansas oil.

My best pal and I spent our hot junior high summer sabbatical giggling, jumping on pogo sticks under her carport (a skill I was proud to accomplish), and eating snow cones from Mr. Marino’s Frozen Delight. Mr. Marino invented a special machine that made ice shavings perfect for snow cones. For an extra twenty-five cents, a snow cone became a “dream cone” with soft ice cream on top. My green tongue always gave away my favorite...lime. I suspect that Mr. Marino lived largely on his summer earnings, because everyone in town enjoyed his syrupy ice concoctions during heat waves. Back at Vicki’s, I devoured whole packages of Vienna Fingers in one sitting (my new gastronomic discovery, although an overkill cure for borderline anexoria). Vic listened to me obsess about my latest boy crush. We planned all day jaunts downtown where we shopped and performed our own brand of adolescent torture via walk-in visits to the local merchants, her father included. Our small town even had a “hippie” shop. I prefer to call it that, because at our age, we were completely ignorant of the slang “head shop.” We were more into studying our signs of the Zodiac and stringing trendy bead necklaces. Bead supplies were only to be found at the hippie shop. Posters, psychedelic lights and incense created “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and a fleeting sense of cool. In our minds, we looked like fashion plates in our jeans and t-shirts complete with Mickey Mouse and smiley faces. A look in the store mirror shattered those heady patchouli hallucinations. We comforted ourselves with hamburgers and French fries from Jim’s corner restaurant, feeling plump, yet mod. The smell of a neighborhood grill is therapeutic. We didn’t care for long that we weren’t the coolest of cool. In our early teens, we were all about laughing and having fun. Best of all, we knew we were safe in our small town, despite the hippie shop and its clandestine activities.

For me, the crème de la crème of that vivid summer was mastering the bag swing. The swing hung in the back yard behind the Saxon’s house, Vicki’s relatives. It was not fancy, a burlap bag over some weighty anchor of sorts, tied by thick rope to a sturdy tree. It smelled of dust and mildew. A flat roofed doghouse was our launching pad. I watched Vicki, Cindy, and cousins, Charlie and Molly, casually jump on with no effort, swinging through the air like trapeze artists. To be so carefree was the stuff of innocent summer novels. I could only stand back and watch like a scaredy-cat.

The entourage of friends and their cousins urged me on. “You can do it!” they screamed until they grew tired of my reluctance and left me to my own failings. Alone, I finally summoned enough courage, after many thwarted attempts, to ignore gravity and my questionable gymnastic skills. Would too many Vienna Fingers prevent my launch and cause my demise? At some point, I just closed my eyes and jumped. Oh, the pure joy...the abandon! Sailing through the wind, I got a view normally saved for God’s winged creatures. I felt exhilarated. After my confidence grew, I lived for the bag swing and its thrill. I am sure my friend grew tired of my swing obsession. I still count my maiden flight on rope as a personal accomplishment, a fear conquered.

I feel no need to have a NASA experience. Thrill seeking bungee jumpers, don’t bore me with your tales. The bag swing was enough and remains etched in my mental scrapbook.

Memories are the stuff of our pasts, stored to pull out in times of emotional need. We can visit them at a whim. I often go back to the bag swing to forget my cares and worries. That Arkansas summer of ’68, I flew through the air with the greatest of ease.