During their first week back at school, do children still write about what they did last summer? That was a routine assignment way-back-when. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I probably tried to use correct punctuation.
My summers were uncomplicated, and beautiful. I loved playing. Our neighborhood-- in what was then north Dallas-- was as far as I wanted to go. We built forts, had wagon races, and organized backyard softball games. We chased lightning bugs and put them in old mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids.
One summer we bought small turtles at the nearby 5 & 10 . Those turtles, I’m sad to say, had it rough during their short life spans. They went “swimming,” with the help of a garden hose, in our wading pools. We made little churches out of shoeboxes so that they could have weddings. Gertrude and Pierre were the first-- and last-- couple. The same large ugly turtle who presided over their marriage ceremony held their funerals a few days later. I guess life with us was just too much for them.
Even my older brother, usually far too sophisticated for such silliness, joined in the memorial service for Gertrude. He tried to say a prayer, but the rest of us fell down on the grass giggling after he’d spoken a couple of holy words.
The two sisters who lived across the street, far luckier than I, were allowed to buy hamsters at the 5 & 10. We put them on the sidewalk and encouraged them to run. One of them darted straight under the foot of my best friend Ellen, and promptly gave up the ghost. The sisters were first heartbroken, then furious. “Murderer!” they cried. I don’t remember participating in that funeral.
Life is different now, certainly for me, but also for today’s children. Even with the Texas heat, our houses weren’t air-conditioned. We stayed outside, occasionally running in to the kitchen for a swig of cold water from a Tupperware bottle in the refrigerator.
We played until the sun began to set. Coming in barefoot and “filthy-dirty,” as we proudly called it, we were so tired we could hardly bathe.
Afterward, I collapsed into my bed next to an open window, dreaming of lightning bugs, tomorrow’s races, and trips to the 5 & 10 for more turtles.