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.