RSVPhillippi | August 2016
By Dennis Phillippi
When I was a kid, the bottoms of my feet were practically like shoes by this time of summer. From the moment school let out in the spring, I would’ve been barefoot at all times. I also would have spent every waking moment, and some non-waking moments, outside playing in the creek in the backyard, climbing trees, playing hide and seek and jumping bikes, all of which I’m sure are no longer acceptable activities for children. We not only climbed trees, but also on to the top of our elementary school, all over the construction sites that littered our new subdivision, and the roof of the convenience store where we could see the drive-in movies. We couldn’t hear the drive-in movies, of course, but there was always the possibility of a cool monster or a lady taking off her shirt. We had no idea why anyone would want to see that, but we had been informed by older kids that it was very important.
My family would’ve spent two weeks at North Myrtle Beach, or as you may know it, the “Other Myrtle Beach.” We couldn’t have afforded to stay at the real Myrtle Beach. During those two weeks, from the second I got out of bed until well after dark, my parents would have had literally no idea where I might be. I might’ve been in the ocean or at the bottom of it. It was a different time. This isn’t about that though.
By this point, summer would’ve been getting kind of dull. There’s only so many times you can try to peg John Bryant’s sister with a bb gun while she climbs the tree in their front yard. There is only so much entertainment from damming a creek to catch salamanders and then letting them go. The novelty of jumping a bike off of a wooden ramp had worn thin. Most of us would be hurt in some way by August. There’d be cuts and casts and ace bandages. One year Todd Ferguson had to cut off almost all of his hair because a bat got caught in it. All in all, a general malaise would set in and, to our dismay, we would start looking forward to school.
Back in the spring when we got sprung, we couldn’t get school in our rear view mirror fast enough. That is if you were fortunate enough to have a rear view mirror on your bike, which was rare. Getting out of those echoing hallways, and away from the smell that only a school can have, was heaven. Three plus months of no cafeteria food, no one yelling at us to slow down, and no more droning voices trying to convince us that there was a reason to care what year the Battle of Hastings took place. 1066 if you’re curious, and yes, I remembered that.
Just getting away from having a schedule was so freeing. Not having to hear my mom tell me I had to get out of bed for the tenth time. No more sitting around on a curb at the bus stop. No more of the ad hoc caste system on the bus.
With all of summer stretching out in front of us, we were thrilled to just not be going to school. But by August, we were missing the kids who didn’t live nearby. We were starting to think being inside and sitting down for a while without watching Gilligan’s Island might be good for a change. The whole reason we got a summer off at all was because no one wanted to pay to air condition the schools, but we were getting sick of being hot and dirty.
And there was the prospect of New School Clothes. Even though I was the youngest of six in a, well, economically challenged family, I was rarely forced to wear hand me downs because I was taller and skinnier than my nearest brothers, and my sister’s clothes looked ridiculous on me. It was the one time of year other than Christmas when my parents were going to have to spend some money and attention just on me. That trip to Penney’s or Sears to get a new pair of Tuff-skin jeans was dreamy. This was long before anyone would’ve considered spending money on jeans someone had already deliberately damaged. New jeans in our world meant jeans with the longest possible life span. They started out so rigid and stiff they could’ve stood up by themselves. All the kids in my lower middle class strata spent the first three weeks of school walking like Frankenstein’s monster. If we were really lucky we might be sporting a new pair of shoes too, which meant cramming our feral summer feet into hard pleather and suffering until the shoes and the feet softened up.
My favorite, by far, was the new lunch box. Back then they were made of metal and came with a thermos that usually shattered in the first month, soaking your pb&j with fetid rotten milk. Still, that Lone Ranger riding Silver on the front was so cool. The one with Andy Griffith and Opie walking with a fishin’ pole was hokey, but I secretly loved it. I didn’t even hate the plaid one because the thermos matched. I usually didn’t eat what my mom made because that was stuff I could eat at home. I’d trade with a kid like Robert Fields whose mom always made him sandwiches on fancy thin bread and not generic store brand white bread.
Ah yes...school at last. Back running in the halls, wrestling on the playground, jockeying for position in the social system, sitting in home room with Jewel Love popping her gum over and over behind me, and going to class to hear more about wars in Europe centuries ago.
Within a week we were yearning for summer.