A Summer Weekend looms – a long holiday one here in the States as we celebrate July 4. Puts me in mind of a particular childhood summer in Pennsylvania. That was the summer I essentially lived with a British family and it was the start of my funny way of slipping into an accent that defies localization. My Brit friends know well that I get “a case of the Madonnas” when I’m around them; the timbre of my voice changes and I start saying GARE-age instead of gar-AHJuh. I go on holiday, not vacation, and everything comes out of my mouth a wee bit more English sounding.
That magical summer during my youth was one of great creativity. Kids were given free rein to create. There was a mad cacophony of projects: a toothpick Eiffel Tower in one corner; painting canvases in another; and game boards for never ending Monopoly games, some kind of farm game, and Battleship were always set up in the caravan /travel trailer. In the back room we spent hours assembling bones from animal skeletons we found in the woods and we played museum keepers trying to put them together. It looked like some grisly experiment of cat, gopher, and rat bones. The great Golden Labrador named Costas spent his days flaked out on a frayed Persian rug, smiling, and thumping his tail whenever we walked by, no doubt because we dropped bits of food everywhere. There was endless food in the kitchen. It was HEAVEN!
I staged plays and radio shows. My Grandfather had given me a reel-to-reel tape recorder and I would interview anyone and everyone, and then would edit and present it ‘radio style’ from a booth I rigged in the GARE-age. We hung sheets and staged plays of our own imagination. We were kings and queens and ace fighter pilots and intrepid explorers. We wrote plots of murder, betrayal, and revenge and – since it was the cold war in those days – intrigue involving Russian spies.
Sean Connery was James Bond then and the local bakery, Bond Bread, took advantage of the coincidence of name and sold loaves with end wrappers featuring photos from the movies. We collected them all into a mad collage of black and white stills from spy films and put them up on our theatre walls. We bragged about how when we each grew up we would have Aston Martins and speed around the countryside saving the free world.
We trooped down to the creek with Costas in the evening and sailed boats made of plywood with ripped sheet sails. We built dams and temporarily incarcerated frogs and toads, always freeing them at night to return to their lives on the banks of the stream. At night we lay on the grass, got devoured by mosquitoes, and stared up at the constellations, making charts of the stars and sneaking them to bed with us so we could sit under blankets with our flashlights and compare them to the star charts in our books. We captured fireflies and put them in bottles and watched the fluorescence. We let them go after a few hours. Unless we forgot. And if we did and they died we buried them with honors worthy of Egyptian pharaohs in the morning.
Crystals were everywhere, or so it seemed to me. I collected them all summer and put them in boxes by category and pulled them out late at night in bed and held them, felt their power and compared how different ones buzzed in different ways. We passed them around and felt their energy.
All summer long we created and laughed and learned about life and the environment.
And yet we attended no summer camps, participated in no programs or classes, and had no formal structure to our days. We had neither teachers nor seminars, and days would go by without us ever getting in a car or going anywhere other than where we went on foot. The only television I recall us watching was Gilligan’s Island, which we would sit and sing to and mock endlessly with our own lyrics.
Yet somehow this summer of our imaginations was one of the best of my life. It was a magical time of friendships, of exploration, and of self-realization. Adults served merely to provide us with food and - as I look back on it – overall protection from the elements. The odd scraped knee was bandaged and kissed. Bad language was sharply reprimanded. Laundry was ordered picked up. Other than that, it was Lord of the Flies without the bad bits and with gentle structure. We were kings and queens and we found our very essence that year.
It was not all jolly for me that summer. There was some ugliness on another front. But while I was in this household I learned what it was to be myself, and unleash the creative person unafraid. And I knew what it was to be free and to be loved and to be embraced for who I was.
What a blessing. I wish all children such summers. I wish it for all adults, too.