It’s been so hot the last couple of days, I haven’t gone outside for more than a few minutes until the sun’s gone down, and even then walking down the middle of the street still feels like a furnace. Trading the blazing heat of a parking lot for the cool, dry air conditioning of a store is blissful, and ice cream just tastes better.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the summers of my youth, the memories coming to me in very broad strokes and brief flashes.
In my earliest memories, I’m splashing around in a plastic pool on the lawn that’s both impossibly huge and not big enough. I’m three or four years old. It’s 1975, and my parents frequently take me to the 31 flavors next door for ice cream. The pull me in my red wagon. I wear osh kosh overalls. I’m not sure if I actually remember this, or if my brain has created memories to go with the pictures I’ve seen.
In the summer of 1976, we move to Houston. My father attends Texas Heart Institute. I’m in a pre-school that I hardly remember, save for a refrigerator box that was converted to a fort, and the rubbery, sweet smell of finger paints. It rains a lot, and I love to sit at the window to watch the lightning flash across the sky. My little brother is born, and he’s too small for me to do anything with him. I want him to hurry up and get big so we can play together. Some fire ants take up residence in my sandbox, and my mother puts me in the deep kitchen sink, covering what feels like a hundred bites with baking soda. There’s a pool in our apartment complex, but I don’t remember ever going into it.
In 1978, we move back to California from Texas, and into the house I will grow up in. My brother is 2, I am 6, and my little sister is born a few weeks before we move in. Before we can spend our first night in the house, there’s a flood that fills our house with several feet of mud and debris. Over the years, I see the faded pictures and 8mm films of my parents and their friends cleaning it up, and it isn’t until I’m almost 20 that I ever pause wonder what it must have felt like to have two kids and a newborn while cleaning several feet of mud out of the house you’ve just bought.
Every summer in that house is magical in my memory. My brother, my sister, and I make slip-n-slides out of plastic tarps on the front lawn. We do jumps and perform bike shows on the street. We play hide and seek into and beyond the warm dusk of numerous Julys and Augusts. We get a pool in the early 80s, and spend all day in it, every day. We get ear infections. We build floating forts out of rafts. We make waves with the rafts and attempt to ride them with our Boogie Boards. We dive for pennies, rocks, toys, anything that will sink. We have massive amphibious battles with Star Wars and GI Joe figures. When it’s time to get out of the pool, we swim all the way to the deep end, then invent a reason we have to get out in the shallow end. Our parents know what we’re doing, and we know they know, but we somehow get away with it, every time.
On Saturday mornings, my brother and I watch cartoons and wrestling, then we go outside and play until the sun goes down, longer if we can. We sneak mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches from the huge top-loading freezer in the garage and never get caught.
We don’t have air conditioning in the house in Sunland, not really. We have a swamp cooler that works for about 8 cubic feet in the hallway. When it’s too hot to play, and we can’t swim for some reason, we sit in front of the television and watch Star Wars on VHS until we wear the tape out. We play Atari until the mid-80s, and then Nintendo. We build forts and have campouts in them.
The ice cream man is actually a lady. She sells strawberry shortcake bars and fun dip. She’s the nicest person in the world.
We go to our Great Aunt Val’s house in Northridge every weekend, and swim in her pool, which has a slide and a diving board. Our cousin Jack’s absentee father buys him a Nintendo arcade machine, and he swaps out different chips so we can play Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye for free. We watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and fall asleep in front of the television. When she gets MTV, I spend all day watching it, hoping to see the video for Thriller. It never airs, but I see a lot of U2.
In 1987, we move to La Crescenta, into the house where my brother and sister will grow up, and I will come of age. I’m 14. Jeremy is 10, Amy is 8. It’s a better house in a better neighborhood. The schools are better, the neighbors sell 100% less drugs. But it’s on a hill, and there isn’t anywhere for us to ride bikes. There’s no swimming pool; a small above-ground spa will have to suffice. We adjust more quickly than we expect, and grow to love that house. My friend Ryan and I spend long hours sitting in that spa, listening to Van Halen on a portable cassette player, talking about the girls we don’t ever have the courage to talk to. In 1988 we get a pool, and it’s magnificent. It has a waterfall into and out of the spa, is dark on the bottom, and feels like a lagoon. We have massive pool parties almost daily for the next four summers. I kiss a couple of girls on some warm summer nights in the jacuzzi. I play boardgames at the dining room table, and computer games on my Macintosh in my bedroom. I get my first modem and my own phone line. Ryan and I try to hook it up while dripping wet from the pool, using a butter knife as a screwdriver. Somehow, we succeed with minimal shocks.
My brother and I play all the way through Legend of Zelda and Metroid on the NES in his bedroom, sometimes we stay up all night to finish the games. We're inseparable. Ryan and I play hours of Blades of Steel and Excitebike.
I become a teenager, and drift away from my younger siblings. I don’t feel sad about that until this exact instant, and I miss them.
I didn’t know why these things have been on my mind, or why I needed to write them down, until just now.