These summers led up to my family making a big change. We moved from the very small town of about 300 people where my mom had grown up to the “bustling city” about 45 minutes away of nearly 20,000 where my dad had been working. We moved from the very tiny house that we had rented from my grandparents for as long as I’d been alive to a house that my parents worked hard to build and finish themselves. Much larger but still modest, the new house was a tri-level sitting on a two acre lot right at the edge of the bustling city. In fact, it was, and still is, the northern most house in the bustling city.
My best friend during those summers in the small town before the move to the bustling city was Janelle, the girl next door. She was a year younger than me. You see, when you grow up in a very small town, there are not a lot of kids around. Most of my classmates lived outside of town on farms and came from large farm families. I never got to see them during the summers. So summers were when I spent most of my time with Janelle. And that was okay.
Pretty much every day in the summer from 9:00 or so on until dinner time (with a break for lunch), we’d be outside together. Our parents didn’t have to worry much about us. We could wander all over the small town and we’d be fine. Again, there weren’t many kids in the small town so everyone knew us.
Well, they probably actually knew us from our grandparents. Janelle’s grandparents owned and ran what was, aside from “Tuck’s Filling Station,” about the only “going” business in town -- the grocery. My grandparents in town, on the other hand, were sort of a local institution. My grandfather was been the local music teacher for 30+ years and my grandma was a cook at the school. Can’t get much more institutional than that, can you?
So, as we rode our bikes around town, I am not sure that we were ever so much Janelle and Todd as we were “Wayne and Catherine’s granddaughter” and “Doyt and Pauline’s grandson”.
I always hated rainy days in the summer. It was never fun to be cooped up inside when I really wanted to be outside with Janelle, riding our bikes and exploring the small town that, to us, was the world. These were sort of my “wonder years”. Or something like that. They were years of innocence, friends, fun, and not a lot of responsibility.
My sister is three years older than me and Janelle’s was three years older than her. Occasionally, the four of us would get together for games of kickball or baseball, even though our teams were small. But a lot of the time, Janelle and I were trying to determine pranks to play on our older sisters. It was sort of a “we’ve always been the younger sibling, we’re tired of being picked on, and we’re not going to take it anymore” type of doctrine that we held. I don’t remember any of the pranks actually being successfully carried out but, funny thing about pranks, sometimes the scheming is most of the fun.
And there was the time my sister fell on her butt during a game of kickball. Janelle and I had nothing to do with it but we found it to be uproariously funny. Unfortunately, my sister and her friend didn’t see it that way. Funny thing about teen or near-teen girls. No senses of humor at all – as they chased us around screaming things like “It’s not funny” and “She could have been seriously hurt!” We laughed all the more, thinking but not verbalizing “Yeah, if her brains are in her butt!”
Janelle and I were extreme daredevils. We used to like riding our bikes down the sidewalk steps in front of the First United Methodist Church. There were three steps you had to bounce down. It seemed really death-defying yet, thanks to our incredible biking skills, we never took a single fall. (Although bouncing up and down on my purple banana seat may have something to do with why it would later take Lisa and I seven years to conceive a child.) Whenever I get back to the small town, I look at those three steps. They haven’t changed. And there’s no way I’d try riding a bike down them today.
We’d explore the small town on our bikes, daring to approach or go deeper into the “other side of the tracks” parts of towns our parents had warned us about. It seemed exciting and sort of like James Bond. Oddly enough, the town park was one of those “other side of the tracks” places but we’d venture there anyway.
We also knew that, by stopping by my grandma’s house, or our “pseudo-grandma” who lived on the other side of Janelle’s house, we could always get a cool drink and perhaps even a fresh-baked cookie or two.
The summer of ’74 was, as I said, my last in the small town. Janelle and I vowed to stay in touch. Pretty much didn’t happen although, when I was in college and she was a hair stylist in a town nearby, I had her cut my hair a couple of times. I had hair then and she was married with a kid or two as I recall. It was nice to reconnect but I forget if I asked her about the locusts. I still think about the locusts. The summer of ’74, you see, was a big year for locusts. Janelle and I spent the summer scouring the small town looking for locust shells which we kept in a shoebox. We had something like 160 of them by the end of summer. We spent the summer sharing the shoebox between our houses but, on the day we moved away, Janelle gave the box to me to keep. I think we both cried a bit.
Yes, there was more to those summers of ’72, ’73 and ’74 than just these “wonder years” memories – there was some “real life stuff” mixed in there as well -- but these are the things that, as I age, I will choose to remember.
(And, if you’re thinking of commenting that you weren’t even born yet during these years, well, I will forgive you your youthfulness. You missed some good times.)