I believe in the barefoot, bubble-wrap-free, no-adult-supervision summers of my childhood. Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1970s, every summer morning I launched out the back door of my house wearing only a bathing suit and towel. Blades of dewy grass stuck to my bare feet as I sprinted across the lawn and hopped on my pink Schwinn with the banana seat and plastic tassels on the handlebars. Helmet free, I pedaled my bike to the town pool with the Fry sisters down the street, where we spent the muggy 80 degree days cannon balling off the high dive and ignoring the “no-running” commands from the teenaged lifeguards. Lunch was Pixie Sticks and French fries purchased from the snack bar with the change that migrated from our fathers’ pockets to the bottom of sofa cushions.
In the afternoon, our chests aching and ears waterlogged from hours of underwater handstand contests and shouts of “Marco… Polo,” we rode back to our neighborhood for a game of street kickball with the Roberto boys. We were left to referee our own fights over who was safe at the home plate manhole cover and used our soggy pool towels to wipe the blood off inevitable scraped knees. Holding the ball, curbside, our black-soled feet tapping on the steaming asphalt, the game was frequently interrupted by passing cars, unwelcome invaders from the adult world. The end of the kickball game was signaled by a tinny music box version of the “Tarantella” playing from the speakers on top of the Little Jimmy’s Italian ice truck. I always selected the lemon and blue ice combination, the latter flavor not associated with any naturally grown fruit.
Sun fading, my lips and tongue dyed a color invented at a chemical plant bordering the New Jersey Turnpike, I sucked the last remnants of melted ice from the soggy paper cup as I walked in the direction of my mother’s call to dinner. Moving Mom’s tuna noodle casserole around on my plate, I was oblivious to my parents’ talk of Nixon, but paid attention when my older brother lost his rights to his chocolate pudding for sounding off squishy armpit farts at the table. After we dried the dishes, my brother and I were released once more to the wilds of our street for an evening game of hide and seek with the other kids on the block.
Back outside, our parents were out of frame, like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons who “wa wa wa wa’d” through the periphery of Charlie Brown’s world. The blinking lights of the fireflies grew brighter as I hid behind a Nova parked on the street and listened to Ricky, the bully of the block, count to one hundred.
That’s was I heard it, a whining sound like someone vacuuming a few blocks over. This sound only happened after dinner, tucked between the daytime splashings of the pool and nighttime TV variety show applause with Carol Burnett singing that she was so glad we had this time together. This whining sound grew louder and louder, inciting a frenzy that even the Little Jimmy ice man couldn’t match. I saw a flash of orange turning the corner and joined the other kids screaming “the bug spray truck!” The orange city truck lumbered down the street spewing out a grey cloud of mosquito-annihilating DDT. I raced behind it, my lungs gulping in the pesticide as I willed my legs to move faster, jockeying closer to the back of the truck. With these children who populated my summer world, I disappeared from the street lights coming on and grown-ups calling us inside, and faded into the grey dusky, DDT fog of my eternal childhood bliss.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.