Thursday, May 03, 2007

Summer of '73

Yesterday's post about childhood friendships, and the subsequent comments, made me think a little bit about what makes a summer memorable. I'm focusing on the summer of 1973 because it was a pretty significant turning point in my life.

I had wheels as a 9 year old - a mustard yellow Huffy Dragster 20" bike with the usual early 70s style, including the banana seat. I could go pretty much anyplace in town that I wanted and I did. I thought nothing of riding my bike across town. I would disappear for hours at a time and my mother never worried, because I always came home eventually. Once I learned we were moving, I would ride my bike across town to the new house to check out the new neighborhood. Sometimes I had a quarter in my pocket, which would usually buy me a snack or a can of Pepsi. Somehow, I don't see kids doing these sorts of things anymore.

As my great friend Mr. Miller points out, we spent a lot of time playing basketball that summer. Mills was a huge fan of Rick Barry, the great shooting forward who at the time was in the employ of the New York Nets. My dad had bought me an ABA-style ball and Mills and I would head over to Jackson School to play basketball for hours at a time. Although we both had hoops attached to our respective garages, Jackson was the place to go. We would keep score and do a running play-by-play; usually Mills would score about 175 points in the role of Rick Barry, while I would grab about 95 rebounds in my role as Billy "The Whopper" Paultz. Other neighborhood kids might saunter by on their way to the amazingly dangerous WPA-era playground equipment, but the court was ours. Later that summer another guy in the neighborhood was using my precious ABA ball and bounced it inadvertently on a thumbtack. That was the end of the ABA ball and 34 years later, I still miss it.

Mills and I did have another obsession at that point - comic books. We discovered that there was a second hand store on the edge of downtown that had an enormous stack of old comic books available for sale at 10 cents a copy. We bought dozens of comic books at a time. But we weren't interested in superheroes; we were devotees of Harvey Comics, featuring the comedy stylings of Richie Rich, the Sad Sack, Little Dot and Little Lotta, Hot Stuff the Devil and, above all, Casper the Friendly Ghost. We had a chance then to buy classic comic books that collectors today would crave, but not us. While it might have made more sense to follow Spidey and the Green Lantern, we didn't see it that way. Somebody had to buy the Harvey Comics and we were the ones. Edifying? Perhaps not. But walking home with an armload of comic books was always a triumph for us and we seemed to have the market to ourselves.

We played baseball that summer, too - our team won the Appleton Park and Rec League 9-10 year old division and I think someone back home still has my trophy. We also donned the red t-shirts of Catholic Knights Insurance that summer in the Cadet League. I was a late bloomer in baseball and wasn't very good at that age, so my primary strategy for getting on base was getting hit by a pitch, but it was a lot of fun, even when Linus VanderWyst (a quintessential Appleton name) hit a fly ball way over my head and got a home run. I can still hear my teammates yelling, "c'mon Mark, run! You gotta go get that ball!" I could feel the wrath of the entire Knights of Columbus on me as I chased after the flying sphere. We won the game anyway, but it was the longest 50 yards I ever covered.

I don't know if kids have these types of summers anymore. Our kids have activities galore, but all of them are have loads of adult supervision. These days, that doesn't happen. We've gained many things since the Summer of '73, but freedom isn't one of the gains.


Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the basketball court at Jackson School, and Jackson school itself was closed after 1973, and replaced by an old folks home that still stands today.

Late in that summer the move across town took place for Mr. Dilletante. Max Knipe, Mike Collins and his seemingly always runny nose and Biggy Rat were replaced with Josphine "Old Lady Joe" Beyer, Donald Mielke, and Al Schnese. Clearly things would never be the same.

Anonymous said...

The running nose of Mike Collins ... oh my GOD. Too funny. I also remember from the summer of 1973 the teepee in the front yard of the Heuring household and Mr. Dilletante and I singing old "Three Dog Night" songs inside of it. Boy we were geeks. I also not-so-fondly recall getting balled out by Mr. Edward Heuring after painting "No Smoking" on the walls of the Heuring garage in yellow paint.

And, of course, the all-time record for purchasing Harvey comics still stands at 26 ... I recall buying all of those comics and then stopping at Mr. Dillentante's grandmother's for some lemonade. Then, after reading about the various adventures of Stumbo, Spooky and the Ghostly Trio, we fell off to sleep with a fan humming in the background.

Mr. Dilletante, as usual, you hit the nail on the head with your ending. Times have indeed changed. I feel fortunate to have had the upbringing and the freedoms we had in the 1970s in Appleton. -- MM

Mark said...

I do hope that someone got some help for Mike Collins eventually - the runny nose was indeed an epic thing.

I'd almost forgotten about the tent we had in the yard that summer. I still don't know why my Dad put that up, but he did and we spent a lot of time in there. And I'll never forget the "no smoking" in the garage. Dad was really angry about that, but I noticed that the new owners of the house left that message stay on the back wall for well over 20 years afterward. So we were on to something....

Anonymous said...

Growing up, I often referred to Appleton as the "City with the Plastic Bubble over the top of it." Times have definitely changed, and not for the better.

Just to provide a few more chuckles for those who know and remember the era:

Rick Crawford was the neighborhood tough guy. He once knocked Mr. Diletante's brother off his tricyle which drew the ire of a man who's ire one did not want to draw: Mr Diletante's father Ed Heuring.

Mr Dilletante once fancied himself to be a weatherman. He drew maps all over the outside of his house on the shingles with a green crayon. This also drew the ire fo Mr Dilletante's father who came home to have Mr Dilletante say "Dad there's a cold front coming in from the Dakotas" In response Mr. Dilletante's father shrieked "What the @#$@& have you done to our house?" The funny thing is that Mr Dilletante was 4, perhaps 5, and was drawing accurate weather maps while others his age were learning their ABCs. This vintage story is a little earlier than 73, but this informed anonymous reader feels that Mr Dilletante's readers should receive a little more information about the past of their esteemed blogger.

I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure that Mr Dilletante still has $5 in his savings account at the Northern State Bank (Now a branch of M & I) at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Drew Streets. I'll bet if he looked it up, he'd find that the 1.5% interest has really compounded through the years.

Finally Mary Jane was the driving force behind the tent that is now affectionately referred to as the "Tee Pee" She wanted the kids outside and out of the house. The smell of hot canvas always brings this poster back to that summer. To quote Bob Hope...thanks for the memories.

Mark said...

Ah yes, drawing the weather maps on the house. If you want to feel a real cold front, defacing your house with a green crayola is a good way to do it. As Bob Dylan said, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Dad had a "summer thunderstorm" temper, which meant that all of us understood implicitly what a change in the weather might mean.