A View from the Hill: Summer of ’59

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Kid. Early soft summer morning. School is out. Absolutely nothing to do but some stupid chores. Otherwise, what will be will be. So what will it be?

Eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes. Step out the door.

And there is the whole wide world. Early sun glinting off still dewy grass. Trees full and heavy with green. What to do?

Wander aimlessly. Pause to watch a robin stretch an earthworm out of the ground to bring home to the kids for breakfast. OK. Wander. Think. Or maybe not think. How does the 8-year-old brain work in 1959? Can’t remember. Maybe kind of half like the 8-year-old mind today, the digital half still a long way off.

September seems forever away. Not worth thinking about. 

Wander. Eye the old shed, never to be entered at night for the fearsome things that lurk inside. Not to be trifled with. But safe during daylight. Yes. Except that back corner, piled high with junk. Where the night things hide by day. 

Flick the latch. Open door. Startled mouse heads for the junk in the dark corner. Chase it? And do exactly what with it? No. 

Rakes and shovels. Dig worms? Too much work. 

Power lawnmower.  Hmmm. Drag it outside. Walk around it. Study the possibilities. 

Pull starter cord. Ouch. Choke. Pull again. Again. Look around for other things to do. Pull again. Sputter. Again. Engine roars to life, too loud for this early morning. Slow it down to an idle. Sniff the warm exhaust. Consider the possibilities. Mowing isn’t one of them. Too much work. 

Disassemble engine? Rummage through toolbox for wrench. Start with air filter. Uhh! Harder. UHH! Nothing. Drop wrench in wet grass. Go-kart? 

Back to shed. Red wagon that my brother and I won in Hodes’ market raffle. First shot at fame – photo with store manager in local paper.

Oh yeah, go-kart. Shed. Cast wary eye into dark junk corner. Hidden treasure? Don’t do it. Too dangerous. Coil of rope. Tie rope to wagon. Other end to mower handle. Start engine. Climb in wagon. Engage clutch. Blade spins. Idling motor stalls. Climb out of wagon. Restart. Turn lever to full power. Mower wheels spin on wet grass. Rig goes nowhere. Climb out of wagon. Shut down engine with choke. Scorch hand on hot muffler.

Don’t put anything away. Note favorite blue bike leaning against the wall. Later.

Wander. Kick soccer ball left out yesterday into bushes. Disappears. End of game. Wander. Sun higher, warming. Keds wet from dew. Look at big ash tree. Climb? Not in wet shoes. Don’t want to fall like the time I climbed the apple tree in slick-soled cowboy boots and fell from top landing on head. Blood. Doctors. Infection. Fever. Fat head. Doctor re-do.

Wander. Circumnavigate yard. Spot soccer ball in bushes. Leave it there.

Almost step on little garter snake in lawn. Follow it. Reach to pick it up. No. Bad idea. Reach again. Snake snaps little forked tongue at me. Touch tail. Snake lunges at finger, pulled back just in time. Snake slithers off. 

Wander. Stirrings in house. Through the window, noise of pans in kitchen and weather person on radio. Maybe afternoon thunderstorms. 

Wander.

Shed.

Explore dark corner of junk? Not on your life. Maybe later with a friend. Maybe never. Never is good.

Blue bike. Beautiful dark blue bike handed down through three older brothers. Ride? Disassemble? Recall last bike disassembly. Tiny ball bearings spilling over the lawn. Ruined bike thrown in scary junk corner.

Drag blue bike outside. Flat tire. Consider putting bike away. Or dropping it beside lawnmower-wagon rig. In rare display of initiative, dig tire pump out of shed instead. Pump up tire. Sun higher, hotter. Sweat on temples. 

Image of brother pumping up tire at Jenny gas station until it blew up with a loud bang. Stop pumping. Good enough.

Hop on bike. Head for nowhere in particular. In and out of shadows. Head of driveway. A shout from the front door shattering the silence. Mom.

“Sandy! Come back here and make your bed right now!”

Seriously?

Eight-year-old brain weighs options: obey, ride on. Or – something new and different.  Yes. That’s it. Push the envelope. What’s to. Lose? Take a page from the grown-up handbook.

“GO TO HELL!” 

Did I really just say that?

Oops. Wow, I’ve never seen her run like that. 

A summer day in my room. What to do?

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.