Recommended wine for today’s entry: Tonight, I’ll be sipping some Bonterra chardonnay. We’re trying a new restaurant with some friends who all like Bonterra. And, like an old friend, it’s loyal and true and fun and refreshing.
Sticky summer nights and a book I read recently called Firefly Lane have had me thinking about how different summers are now than they used to be. Especially for kids. In the early ‘70s, at my house, summer meant Nothing: No schedule, no lights-out time, nowhere you had to be except maybe softball a couple times a week. There’d be days we didn’t change out of our swimsuits, days we didn’t get out of our jammies and lots of days the car didn’t leave the driveway.
Firefly Lane is about two girls who become best friends when they’re pre-teens. Like many stories, they are opposites: The new girl is beautiful and outwardly confident and from a really messed-up family; the other is plain looking with typical teenage anxieties and a stable home life.
Although neither of us had the family drama, I couldn’t help but visualize my friend Janis and me while reading the early chapters of this book. When I moved to the sticks, the summer before sixth grade, I thought my world was turning upside down. I sobbed in a heap on the floor of the U-Haul with no brakes, not because I was worried about my family plunging into the Ohio River, but because I would never see my friends again. My dad’s blood pressure might have been a record that day. And maybe the drama was a bit much: I didn’t even change schools.
Then I met the girl down the street. Janis had perfect hair, a tall, black steed named Midnight and a Schwinn 10-speed bike. I had mousy braids, thick glasses, a sway-back horse named Bimbo and a two-tone green Sting-Ray with a banana seat covered in Crazy Daisies. And a giant red flag on the back. OK, and a plastic wicker basket with more Crazy Daisies, but I had that sucker unbuckled and flung in the forsythia bush before her 10-speed made it up my driveway.
And she was friends with the hot guy (I believe we called it “hunk” back then) who lived down the street. Let the hero worship begin.
The first day, we rode bikes over to her house. Sitting at the end of her driveway, we contemplated how to fill the long summer day. “Let’s have a reading contest,” I said, my thick, photo-gray lenses black in the bright sunshine. She laughed, probably thinking I was kidding, but she put up with it: With two copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins, we raced to see who could finish Chapter One the fastest. I probably only won because she couldn’t focus. Undoubtedly, she was frantically trying to think of ways to convince her parents to move. After that, I let Janis be activity chairman.
We swam in my pool, shot baskets, both played softball, camped in our yards every single night — where, unsupervised, we gorged ourselves with Cheetos and candy and Nutter Butter cookies and told the scariest stories we could make up.
And we rode our bikes.
As the girls in the novel rode their bikes down a big hill on Firefly Lane one night, I could see us, standing to pump the pedals up the long, Kentucky hills, then flying willy nilly down the other side.
We rode everywhere. We’d ride four miles to a convenience store on winding, narrow roads in search of cherry Charms pops. (They lasted forever or until our mothers threw them away, disgusted by the dog hair and coins stuck to them from the bedside table). Chocolate, if we’d wanted it, wouldn’t do, because it would be a melty mess by the time we opened the brown paper bag that our sweaty hands had smushed everytime we clenched down on the hand brakes.
Once we rode about seven miles (each way) for pizza. I remember we stopped and played tennis on the way, then one of us (OK, me) tried to carry the leftovers home balanced on my racquet. It made it to the first intersection and when I turned left, it spun right and met its demise under the tire of a jacked-up Plymouth Duster.
The only thing that probably kept one of us from going the way of the pepperoni special was my giant red flag. I can only imagine how many tired businessmen and drunken college kids, home for summer with their friends, narrowly missed us on those skinny, windy roads.
Kids don’t ride bikes anymore, do they? I’m pretty sure one of my children CAN’T ride a bike. Those formulative years before a license are spent at the mall or movies or maybe skating. They eat at restaurants with friends, calculate tips, pursue boys by age 11 or 12.
I never see pup tents planted in yards for months at time or the dead-grass evidence that it’s happened. And the only people I see riding bikes are middle-aged adults in color-coordinated spandex and cool shades.
They never have a flag.
And they never seem to be having as much fun as we did