As fall begins to fade into winter, we thought it might be appropriate to post a piece written by Michael a few years back reflecting on his summers as a young boy. Part of this piece was performed by Michael in PPTG’s first presentation, Inside/Out. At its heart, it is a piece about innocence. And if you haven’t had a chance, read other blog posts found under the blog link at the top of this page.
The thought of summer always brings a smile to my lips and tickles my heart with mirth and adolescent giggles of joy. Summer was created for children. I remember chasing butterflies; trapping fireflies in mason jars; mounting safaris to hunt bees. Organizing tree climbing expeditions; beating the bush with my brothers for snakes; running down to the creek; submerging my tiny fingers in cold water herding tadpoles into old fashion coke bottles.
Sneaking into a farmer’s field taking ears of corn. Shucking, pulling hairs and filling a pot with water only to discover 15 minutes later with butter and salt the corn was still hard. In my tiny mind I had no conception of how human and cow people eat different things.
Chasing the only chicken we had, around our dirt-poor yard until our mother could catch it. My mother’s strong brown hands circled the thinned neck of our chicken, twisting until it burst into a cascading stream of blood, splattering our mother. The chicken screamed and fell to the ground still kicking and alive. Our screams were mingled with the screams of our dying dinner.
Climbing up to the highest loft in a barn diving head first into hay, I was as proud as a baby bird that had just learned how to fly. Having my first fist fight in the same barn, closing my eyes and swinging my fist connecting to a boy named Shag’s jaw, I felt like Jack Johnson the day he won the heavyweight championship of the world.
Learning how to prepare chicken and cooking it in my uncle’s restaurant. Not being able to read the numbers on the deep fryer, but knowing the chicken was golden brown, because of the timer’s buzzer.
From the muddy and murky depths of ponds where I pretended to be a tadpole to, the city natatorium with is chlorine-smelling water where I learned the etiquette of swimming.
Sizzling meat on the grill, soul music blaring, the laughter of children chasing each other among picnic tables, watermelons and smiling faces, a 100-paces turning into dashes for prizes.
Carnivals; county fairs; amusement parks; candy and caramel apples; cotton candy; taffy and corndogs. Merry-go rounds; fun-house-mirrors; soft balls; wooden bowling pins. Plastic ducks; air rifles; basket balls hoops; lions, tigers, and bears.
The heart pumping with glee, downward plunge of a roller coaster gone mad, craving the highs and lows of a Ferris wheel, bumping my brains out in cars without any destination.
Never wanting to sit in the kiddy rides like cup and saucer. Dying to strap into a circular thing that moved so fast it scrambled your insides, ejecting your thoughts into another dimension. Strawberries; milk; sugar; ice, in a bucket with a crank, we children churned for our pleasure anticipating the sweet stickiness of homemade ice cream on a lazy summer afternoon.
The click and clank of building bikes from other bikes, a green frame with a greasy sprocket, and a chain, two tires with holes in the tubes, buying a flat tire kit. Taking a pair of vise-grips putting on the front and back tires. Placing the chain on the big sprocket then slipping it onto the little sprocket. Fitting a pair of handlebars through the neck, turning and twisting until it’s just right. Putting on a raggedy banana seat, running to the corner gas station, filling both tires, jumping on and riding like hell a few yards and almost falling down, because the chain slips off the sprocket.
Summer camp was one of the happiest periods of my life. I was 7 years old waiting impatiently for my ride to come. The big yellow bus rolls up and I get on. The other kids are already having fun singing patty-cake-bake-a-man. There was one song we sang I’ve never forgotten. It went like this, “I can tell by yo eyes yo mama tell lies, sardines and poke beans”.
To this day I can’t remember the location of that camp, but I do remember the bus pulled up to this big church and we swarmed out of the bus like happy bees on a honey-seeking mission. The church had a cool dark interior with a pale God hanging upon the wall. The best thing about the church was they made the most delicious peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches on holy bread. Some 40 years later I still have cravings for one of those sandwiches.
What does a child know of love? How does a child recognize love outside the family bond? At seven I wasn’t conscious of race or God’s sacraments. I had no idea what the habit she was wearing signified. I knew nothing about vows; they would not prevent me from loving her anyway. We children see things in a different light. We have ability to see the rainbow, which sits in the center of the human heart, and sometimes our reward is a pot of love.
I have no idea how I became attached or attracted to her. When I try to picture her in my mind’s eye I remember how enchanted I was by her eyes. When she wore a white habit her eyes appeared to be green. When she wore a black habit her eyes appeared to be brown. No matter what color habit she was wearing her eyes always welcomed me with a smile.
Her hair was always covered up and to this day I have no idea what color it was. My imagination tells me she was a brunette with ringlets of compassion hanging down her back, because she treated us kids with so much love and kindness. Her lips were thin, but full of kind and encouraging words for me. Her face resembled a harvest moon in a black velvet sky on a sultry July night; the glow radiating from her washed and cleansed the sadness from my little heart. Her smile was embracing as a fire kindled in a fireplace stoked by embers of passion.
Oh! How I loved Sister. Behind the church was this vast area where we’d eat lunch. There were pots, pans, dishes, and ladles for soup, there were long brown tables where food was set up. A bell would ring and we’d swarm out of the church like hungry bees.
The nuns would instill some order by making us form lines. Taking our plates we would proceed through the line in orderly fashion to get our food. We would all sit down and say a prayer, then we would eat. After we finished it would be time for a nap.
Somehow I got left behind that day, so I pushed the dishes to the far side of the table to make a runway. I took a white tablecloth and tied it around my neck in super hero fashion. There were three tables with gaps in-between them. I imagined the gaps were buildings I needed to fly over. I would take off running, leaping from one gap to the other with my white cape fluttering behind me while super hero theme music played in my head.
Success is nothing if you can’t share it with someone, so I took off running for Sister. I wanted to impress her with my flying ability. Spotting her from a distance I raced up to her grabbing her hand, jumping up and down saying, “Sister, I can fly, I can fly, please come see me fly.” She said, “Fly how?” “Like Superman,” I said. Still holding her hand I pulled and she followed. We walked to the back of the church where the tables were set up for my flight.
Letting go of her hand I approached the first table with a swagger only a 7-year-old super hero could project. Climbing up on the table I surveyed the runway. Seeing everything was clear I took off like a bat out of hell. I flew over the first gap. I safely soared over the second gap. Misjudging my landing, I crashed and burned. When I woke up there was a cast on my left arm and people were asking me what happened. I’d like to think I told them I was playing out back by myself. I didn’t let anyone sign my cast until I went back to camp.