On Summer, Childhood, and a Little Street, in a Little Town Known to Many as J-Town

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Today, I watched with joy as my minions ended the 2018-2019 school year, were “promoted” to Fifth and Second Grade respectively and collected a little end of year hardware. Mind you, said hardware was, in each case a certificate, specifically an award. Cara received the Art Award for her homeroom (a Marsh winning an Art Award? It’s UNHEARD of, sarcasm fully intended) and #NatNatBoo received the Effort Award for hers. To say that I was proud of them, and remain proud of them at this late hour is the understatement of the year on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, in my subjective reality. To have gone through what they went through this year and still achieve what they achieved? I remember what it was like for me when I was Cara’s age. The year my mother and father separated? I was a wreck. The one after that, as well, and the one after that. I think, after that things started to get better but I honestly don’t remember. Jeez, guys and gals, that was over 30 years ago. I can barely remember what happened to me last week!

I’ve spoken at length this eight months or so, after I went public with that was going on in my life about their resiliency, and how amazed I was at their capacity to adjust, and overcome. We’ve had our moments since I relocated to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania but for the most part? It’s been status quo. Business as usual. Pick your poison or in this case, your favorite cliche and roll with it. It applies. They’ve made adjusting to this new life easier than it could have been… Hell, SHOULD have been and for that? I love them. Sh*t, I love them anyway but if it’s possible to love them a wee bit more than I already did, I do. That said, I’m not popping by Random Musings tonight to extol the awesomeness of my progeny (though admittedly? They are pretty awesome and I could write about them all night). I’m actually here for another reason and that one? It’s loosely related to them finishing school for the year. It’s not about what’s passed, but what’s ahead. Specifically? Summer. It’s officially summertime again! Insert Happy Dance HERE.

The idea of Summer conjures many a memory for many a denizen of my subjective universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Swimming pools. Pick-up baseball games ala “The Sandlot.” Shore trips. Trips to the mountains. Lying out in your backyard getting a tan or, in my case, a really nasty sunburn. Barbecues. Patriotic celebrations. Fireworks. Catching lightning bugs. Sh*t friends, family and oft times casual readers, I could go on and on for paragraphs. Summer means something different to everyone but to me? It has and always has had a singular meaning. A memory that I’ve been unable to shake since I was a young’in. I find myself pondering it every year at this time and surprisingly enough? I’ve rarely written about it in the e-pages of this blog or my previous one, Random Musings Version 1.0. That memory? I touched upon it when I wrote about the Mayor of Maple Street a few years ago but that piece was a eulogy and this? This is not. Though it does involve a certain street, in a certain town that has been popularized in modern television and Hollywood to the extent that writing about it NOW doesn’t feel like it has the same, universal heft as it did 10 years ago. Yet I still feel the need to write about it ’cause once upon a time, someone told me I had to. They told me that our story? It was mine to tell. And for some reason, I feel like it still is. Whether anyone will read it now that we have The Goldbergs and Bradley Cooper is a mystery, but somehow… someway? I still feel like it’s my baby. My tale to tell. So I guess I’m going to tell it and we’ll see what happens.

I am, of course, referring to that little street, in that once-little town that is still called “Maple Street” and the town? It’s J-Town, otherwise known as Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. What follows in the pages of this blog is the story of us. The kids turned adults I grew up with. The things we did. Our experiences and guess what? I’m not going to put a price tag on it. I’m simply going to embrace the idea… the concept of writing for joy and not profit because I did the published author thing. Hell, I’m still doing it. Telling you this tale is not about money. It never was back then and it isn’t now. We were lucky if we had fifty cents in our pocket to go buy Tastycake Fudge Bars at Lena’s Deli (to say nothing of Cheese Fries; to wit, Lena’s Cheese Fries were and still are the best f*cking thing to ever pass my lips in my almost 44 year existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence). No. This is simply my way of saying “thank you” to the friends I grew up with, the families that accepted me into their homes and a place… THE place that I never really left. Welcome to my own, personal Summer Project. Not chronological or structured. Just the stories I want to tell.

Tonight? I’m going to write about how the denizens of Maple Street spent their summer nights. And I’m going to start at the beginning, in the same place where my minions started their respective summers earlier today. I’m going to start with the walk home from school after commencement. After Mass at the now defunct Immaculate Conception BVM School and still functioning Church. After all the awards had been given out. After all the buses had picked up their allotment of children and sent them home, screaming and cheering out their open windows. There we were: Marshes and Rings. McCreaveys and Breslins. Lyons and Cooneys. Harmers, Hungerfords and Scharnikows. The whole lot of us, walking south down West Avenue, past McGolderick’s Funeral Home and the ancient, tree-lined properties that lined the street. Maple Street was, and still is one past Cedar Street in that direction.

As neighborhoods go, it wasn’t particularly well-off compared to some of the other areas of J-Town that have been popularized in pop culture. Very blue collar. A hodgepodge of twins and single family homes. If I close my eyes I can still see us ripping our ties off, untucking our shirts (both girls and boys), unbuttoning our top buttons (mainly the guys, but maybe one or two of the girls that wanted to catch the eye of someone other than me but always ended up catching mine, whether they knew it or not). And plotting as we walked. Synchronizing our mental and physical watches. Home to eat lunch. Get changed. Chill for a few. Watch a little television. The Transformers (now known as Generation One), GI Joe, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Jem and the Holograms et al. Eat dinner–generally something grilled–before reconvening at our predetermined time, usually at the Rings since they had the biggest yard at roughly the middle point of the street.

I remember that the sun was always dropping in the sky, bathing the world in “an eerie, golden red iridescence.” Sound familiar? It should. In ENDWORLD, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD and eventually, HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD I wrote/write about it, along with time. Specifically a lack of it. In case you were wondering where those ideas came from they came from my childhood. Specifically those timeless, late, summer nights spent playing Spring or Doors or Ghosts in the Graveyard or Freedom or WHATEVER you call the games we played as children and the ones our children play now. Depending on where you are and whose playing the names change, but the concepts remain the same. Two teams. Sometimes three or four depending on how many kids were in town and out, how many came over from Cedar or Hillside Avenue and occasionally, “The Alley,” how many stumbled out after dinner into the teeny, tiny world we inhabited that was a child’s version of Utopia in microcosm and our parents’ version of Heaven. I was always one of the last ones picked. Me, the goofy little pear-shaped, non-athlete that loved reading and fancied himself an artist and later, a writer. But I didn’t mind. Because I generally ended up on Billy Ring’s team.

I’ve written in the past about Billy. He’ll feature prominently in this chronicle. Billy was the most popular kid at IC and, in truth? Arguably the most popular kid in J-Town and DEFINITELY on Maple Street. Tall. Lanky. Athletic. The polar opposite of me and I’m not ashamed to write about how much I looked up to him as a child. No matter what I endured as a kid–and there were moments; let me tell you–Billy always had my back, even when he was smacking it and causing a bruise. Was he my best friend? Maybe. BFs didn’t really exist back then. But he was as close to one as I had early on. There would be others, later, and I’ll write about them, as well, but it all started with him.

Thereafter, the games started, and progressed long after the sun had dropped behind my house and the streetlights had turned on. If I close my eyes I can still hear it: Crickets chirping. Cars driving past on West Avenue. The occasional rumble of thunder as a storm passed by or hit us, briefly drenching us before moving east toward the city. Children yelling, laughing and occasionally crying. Parents talking politics as they sat upon their covered porches, smoking cigarettes, drinking iced tea and the occasional “adult beverage” and watching us run as the first lightning bugs of the season started blinking in the darkness. Scolding us on occasion if we did something “mean” but never chastising us or ordering us to retire inside. Because kids, they reasoned, needed to be kids, black eyes, scabbed knees and all. The concerns that we face now as adults and they faced then never made an appearance. Those arguments and moments of despair occured behind closed doors. They, the adults, our parents… They kept us in the dark ’cause all they wanted us to worry about was being children. They knew, as we do now that our respective worlds would eventually grow to encompass the wider one. But those warm, summer nights? They were OUR time. Free. Happy. A peaceful cacophony of immature wonder.

Eventually? Big Bill’s aforementioned whistle from “The Mayor of Maple Street” would shatter the darkness and bring the night to a close. We never questioned it. We heeded it like we heeded the vengeful, Old Testament God in Religion class, said our goodbyes and headed home, exhausted, but smiling. Sleep came quickly after we washed up. And all of us Marshes and Rings. McCreaveys and Breslins, Lyons and Cooneys, Harmers, Hungerfords and Scharnikows rested and dreamt the peaceful dreams of youth, only to wake up the next morning and realize that the moment was not a fleeting one. We had days, weeks and months of the same to look forward to.

THAT was Summer on Maple Street in J-Town, folks. Maybe your experiences were similar. Maybe not. I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for me. Us. The same ones that tasked me to write it all down one day. To those of you reading this that remember, I’m sorry it took me so long. I needed to be ready. And now? I think I am. Because?

Simple. Because today I watched my minions finish their Fourth, and First years at another school. Not IC but Saint Anastasia’s. Not in J-Town but in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. And as I hugged them outside and celebrated their awards before returning to work, I saw the joy, emblazoned across their young faces at the prospect of the warm, summer nights ahead. Their memories will likely be a bit different than mine. The world on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence has changed much since I was their age. But their smiles? They are the same as mine. And if I close my eyes for a moment, I can still see and hear those carefree days of my own youth. Contentment follows. After months of turmoil I can finally say that yes. I am happy. And I am ready.

Thank you for reading. And Happy Summer. Winky emoticon. Simley face.

F.

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