“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” a line from George Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess, echoes in my mind today.
As a kid, that phrase summed up June, July and August accurately because the livin’ really was easy.
Back then, I anticipated three main events of summer, and the rest of the time was pure freedom. Memorial Day officially kicked off the season, because few school days remained after that.
My family always spent the holiday at an annual picnic hosted by my parents’ friends where relatives and acquaintances gathered for an entire day full of feasting and fun. One or two days later, the last day of school usually arrived and that meant freedom was finally here!
Freedom to do whatever you felt like doing. No more studying or getting up early. Freedom meant spending the day reading under a shade tree or lounging at my next-door neighbors’ pool.
Freedom represented remaining outdoors as long as I desired, ushering in the darkness by catching fireflies, and staying up late until my heavy eyelids drooped, I dragged my sleepy self up the stairs to bed, and I fell asleep knowing I could sleep in the next day as long as I wanted.
In June, my friends and I eagerly awaited the next big event – the local firemen’s annual carnival, an event still sponsored after all these years. Matter of fact, carnival week just concluded and that caused me to remember how exciting it all used to be.
Trips to amusement parks were a huge treat back then and I didn’t get to enjoy those outings often. Vacations were also rare for our family, so the carnival coming to our area was thrilling stuff.
An entire week of entertainment ensued including long parades, where we waved to our friends in the high school bands and grabbed up candy thrown by our local firemen hanging off huge fire trucks; tummy-upsetting thrill rides and games of chance, where you could win the most gargantuan stuffed animal you’d ever seen in your life; and a smorgasbord of appealing carnival food.
We couldn’t wait for carnival week greeting us with dazzling bright lights, loud rock music, the odor of grilled onions, peppers and sausage, and the carnies’ voices enticing you to spend your money foolishly. My gal pals and I would try to persuade someone of driving age to transport us there as many nights as possible.
As a younger kid, the joy of riding the Ferris Wheel or the Tilt o’Whirl, of eating greasy french fries doused with lots of salt and vinegar and freshly spun pink cotton candy, and finally purchasing a candy apple to take home and enjoy later drew me to the carnival like a moth to the porch light. But when adolescence hit, the carnival was THE place for girl to meet boy.
My teenage girlfriends and I would circle the midway over and over, walking and talking, stopping to flirt with this group of boys or that. It was innocent back then though: boy met girl; boy asked girl to join him for a ride on the Scrambler; boy strolled around with girl, maybe holding hands; boy might sneak a kiss from girl behind the firehall; girl’s parents picked her up; boy went home.
Pretty tame by today’s insane standards, but back then, that was an exciting evening. I still vividly recall one thrilling night at the carnival. I spotted my high school crush and after talking (and flirting) with him, he offered to take me for a ride on his motorcycle. I was in heaven!
I remember how he gently placed his extra helmet on my head and how that motorcycle roared to life when he started it. I can still recall the butterflies in my stomach as I hopped on the bike behind him and he instructed me to hold on tightly by putting my arms around him. “Oh, be still, my heart!” I thought then.
As we sped down the highway away from the flashy neon carnival lights into the darkness, I couldn’t imagine a summer night better than that. The evening air rushed at my face as I hung onto my crush, making me twice as breathless as I already was with my arms tightly encircling him, experiencing the exhilarating thrill of just being near him. I could feel warmth from his back as we raced through the chilly night and I inhaled the scent of his freshly laundered shirt.
As a young and innocent 15-yr-old school girl, I thought, “What could be better than this?”
The boy I felt certain I was madly in love with was a perfect 16-year-old gentleman, even though riding a motorcycle was considered a little wild. After a ride that seemed much too short, he took me back to meet my friends again at the carnival and then sped off into the night on his bike.
I floated along on a dreamy cloud of infatuation for much of the summer after that nighttime motorcycle ride. Every time I heard a bike roaring down the road outside my house, I would run to the window to see if it was him. If I was at my friends’ pool next door, I would leap up from my tanning towel and check to see if my crush was coming for me. And he did roar up my driveway, but only on one summer day.
That summer I waited – a lot. In summers past, I couldn’t wait for the next big event, the 4th of July (the next topic in my summertime reverie). But during my 15th summer, I found myself impatiently wishing for the season to conclude and school to resume, just so I could see the object of my infatuation every day.
Now, forty some years later, in Chapter 6, Page 25, of my book of Opportunity, I wonder how many teenage girls still dream their summers away over puppy love. I also wonder how many foolishly give themselves to the first object of their infatuation.
I’m thankful I waited for my beloved one, my husband. And I ponder how many young girls wandering midways under garish carnival lights in attempts to catch the attention of boys who make their hearts beat faster realize the importance of that.