September already. The weather is finally starting to turn, and like a lot of Septembers, I have a tendency to take a Sunday kind of drive down memory lane thinking about summers from the past.
I remember the summer my father died. So many firsts during that long summer that I moved to Missouri. The very first ‘first’, was when I inadvertently declared my independence by lighting a cigarette in front of the family after the funeral. ‘Nuff of that.
My first job.
My first car.
My ’60 Starliner was white on white with a Y-block V8. It was long and it was wide and it could fly. I proved that late one night trying to lose my first, but regretfully not my last, blind date. Yeah, he really was that bad. I finally shook him loose when I opened it up and ran that car nearly flat out on the Nebo Hills road. I’ll swear that all four tires left the blacktop a few times. I really miss those flat fins.
I bought my first stereo. How many times did I listen to Joe Walsh on vinyl that summer?
I helped my sister stain the exterior of her house – one particular highlight was climbing down the ladder and stepping (barefoot of course) into a paint pan of red stain. Sweet… one redwood colored foot. That was a slapstick first, and spending the first few weeks of summer not being able to wear my favorite pair of water buffaloes was another.
After a childhood spent outdoors year-round in the Southwest, I peeled for the first time in that Missouri humidity, just like a snake. Nice. So much for my carefully cultivated tan, for that summer at least.
Speaking of snakes, I had my first encounter with a copperhead that summer. After an ineffective attempt to slice and dice it with a lawn mower, which by the way, merely managed to make it righteously pissed off, I dispatched it with a set of post-hole diggers. Oh, and incidentally, another first – I learned how to tan snake skin.
That summer I read William Peter Blatty’s book, The Exorcist, and I recall one night spent babysitting my nieces and cleaning up after them. I’ve never been sure if the cause was my first attempt at cooking an entire meal, or a 24-hour bug, but either way, the result was the girls doing their level best to outdo Regan from the book – whip-saw vomiting while still in bed – when one would leave off , the other would begin, then they’d start all over again. A whole lot of bedding ended up being hosed down in the bathtub that night.
Thank you little baby Jesus they didn’t start spider walking.
Back then, the legal drinking age in the state of Kansas was eighteen. It was a quick trip to cross the state line for a beer run. Now I’m not saying that I was legal, but I was close, and that was the summer of my very first hangover. On waking up the next morning chilled to the bone from the air conditioner, I decided that the only place to hide out and sleep it off was in the backseat of my brother-in-law’s Chevy. Was it a ’56 or a ’57? Whatever it was, it just felt so darned good to be finally warm.
I placed my first long distance call that summer. One call to an ex-boyfriend out in Arizona who wanted me to come home for a Doobie Brothers concert. I didn’t go home that summer, and I didn’t see the Doobie Brothers either
I did see Elton John in a fabulous concert at Arrowhead Stadium instead. I went with a cousin who, I’m fairly certain, had been assigned the task of shepherding me that summer. I don’t know how many times I was introduced to his friends as his fiance. He eventually got over the embarrassment of having me tag along, and for the first time we became less like relatives – more like friends.
An odd first, nearly surreal, was the night I went to the Twin Drive-in and saw a double feature re-release of a couple of movies I’d never seen: Gone With The Wind and The Green Berets. What were they thinking when they screened those two movies together? I loved one, slept through most of the other. You guess which.
I discovered In-A-Tub and the taste sensation of a taco salad topped with their proprietary blend of powdered cheese. I know it sounds bad, but really, it was good.
One of my favorite memories of that summer was driving home from town with my sister in her ’73 Ford pickup (I believe it was Mill Valley Green). We were talking about – oh, everything – and working around to a discussion of a neighbor who had been out to her house for a barbeque earlier that week.
The guy had the most incredibly, wonderful belly laugh. He was one of those people who sincerely laughed, from way down deep inside.
We wondered: how did he do that?
The two of us ended up parked in the driveway, sitting there in the cab, trying so very hard to imitate his belly laugh…
Wait, had anybody seen us? Then completely cracking up over the craziness of the situation. Our own laughter ringing out, loud and true, laughing for the joy of being silly together.
That summer began with a death in the family and by the time the summer ended I had a job, a car, a stereo, a worn out Joe Walsh LP, one slightly pink foot, a patchy tan, a much cherished snakeskin, and semi-permanent emotional scarring from reading one of the scariest books ever.
Some might describe that as a so-so summer, some might even consider it pretty tame, but to tell you the truth, it was one memorable summer – time spent in some great cars, having a few laughs, and making that first conscious move towards adulthood.