I was thinking about summer. Longing for it actually.
During the summers for much of the time my brother and I were on our own to find something to do. We lived out in the country and the nearest neighbors our age were at least two miles away. The way people drove on our roads we couldn’t ride our bikes to their houses because our parents were afraid we wouldn’t make it there or back.
There were the summers when my mother would kick me out of the house because I had spent the majority of the days sequestered in my room reading or drawing. There were summers when I would spend entire days in the woods playing with my imaginary horses, Clydesdales. One was named Rosebud because she wore a spread of rosebuds around her neck. I remember gently caressing her nose and neck and snuggling her mane when she would bend down nuzzling my stomach. She was chestnut with a blond mane and tail, just like the Budweiser horses.
Some summers we would spend most of our time in Michigan at my maternal grandmother’s house, and some of the time we would drive the long way to Wilmington, Illinois to visit my dad’s parents and family on the Kankakee River. Once we got lost and ended up in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere on a restricted road that lead to the arsenal where my Grandma worked. My brother started crying because he was afraid we would get shot. We didn’t and spent a fine week pointing at imaginary sharks in the water and making our grandma look overboard to see them. What a sight she was, her short little legs sticking out of her one piece bathing suit, her big orange life jacket hugging her neck, running around the deck of the boat to get a glimpse at the invisible animals!
The best summers were the ones that my brother and I spent out in the gulley in front of our house. Little willow trees stretched up around us forming a house with all the rooms and amenities we could imagine. The rocky stream bottom provided the perfect tile floor and the cool water air conditioned our home as we invited guests of all sorts to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with us. It is a probably a miracle that we are still alive as we frequently drank right from the stream in our little metal camping cups that hung from our tree limb kitchen hooks. My mother always wondered where her silverware ended up, and I am sure that there is a full set of stainless ware at the bottom of our pond, which my parents had excavated when I was in middle school. We used to pretend that we were pioneer settlers, or the American Indians that surely inhabited the land when the big oak tree that we couldn’t reach around was a sapling, or runaway pirates hiding from the law. Do pirates run away and hide from the law?
Before the pond was there, we would ride our bikes up and down the u-shaped driveway, which was later flattened but curved as it ran across the dam instead of through the bottom of the gulley. The old driveway was a true test of our biking capabilities and I sacrificed more than one skinned knee to the bottom of the U. I never understood that when it rained the gravel would wash to the bottom of the dip becoming extremely deep. My portly body on a small bike sunk the tires to a depth that rendered steering impossible. Inevitably, the front tire would turn sideways flipping me over the handlebars into the willow trees. I was so proud the first time I rode all the way from the house to the road without falling, I couldn’t wait to show my mom when she got home from work.
I wanted my bike to be perfect for the show, so I washed her, of course my faithful steed was a girl, from top to bottom and spent several minutes deep cleaning all the mud from between the back tire and the fender. She was one of those cool bikes, turquoise with a banana seat and fenders over each tire to keep the water from splashing up on my behind as I rode through every puddle in sight. I took great pride in my clean bike: I even used a toothbrush to clean the grass from between the links of the chain. When my mom got home I stood straddling her at the top of the hill next to the garage door. “Watch me! Watch me!” I stepped on one pedal and pushed off peddling as fast as I could down first side of the U. I was looking up the other side when it happened. I was thrown off the bike like a bad cowboy at a rodeo. I landed on both knees, bursting the skin and tearing my jeans. It seemed as if the extra mud caked inside the fender had slowed my earlier acceleration and enabled me to complete the U unscathed. Without the friction of the mud against the tire, I was moving too fast and flew ass over teakettle through the front door of the willow house.
More from pride than injury, I began to cry. And cry. This was my first lesson on the most deadly sin: pride. For two or three days my knees were so sore I couldn’t walk, I had ruptured my favorite jeans, and my ego was bruised beyond belief. So much for showing off.