We were the boys of summer. Long before it was a slick catch phrase used by Madison Avenue to sell everything from hotdogs and soft drinks, to beer and trucks during baseball season, it was the essence of who we were. From the final bell at 3:15 on the last day of school to the 8:15 bell that signaled the first day school in a new grade, The Boys of Summer was the epitome of what it meant to be friends. And by the time the last vibration of the school bell died away at 3:16 and the air filled with the slap and clomp of hundreds of pairs of Keds, Converse, Buster Brown, cheap sandals, and P. F. Flyers, pounding the ground in a race for the ultimate freedom, it became something more.
It became the the tattoo we wore on our souls. The fuel that powered every waking moment. The intoxicating liquor of time that made every second of that all too brief season of freedom both heady and precious. For as days of sun and laughter stretched out before us, we vowed to make every second count. Summer called us by name and made its promises, and we had a lot to do and a lot to learn in the time before us.
Dan Simmons best summed up the notion of being one of the boys of summer in his book, The Summer of Night: “Few events in a human being’s life—at least a male human being’s life—are as free, as exuberant, as infinitely expansive and filled with potential as the first day of summer when one is an eleven year old boy. The summer lies ahead like a great banquet and the days are filled with rich, slow time in which to enjoy each course.”
We were the boys of summer. And we had summer names. Names like Specs, Slick, Ace, Hot Dog, Hound Dog, Stinky, and Booger. Badges of honor bestowed by the people we thought would be our friends for life in the halcyon days of our youth.
We were part of a secret fraternity that every boy with summertime friends knows. We were all brothers. And we all heard the voice of summer as it called our names and imparted it’s secret wisdom.
We saw the world from behind a set of bicycle handlebars. Pedaled a thousand miles over sidewalks, dirt roads, and endless ribbons of asphalt. We rode the wind on two wheels. Traveled endless galaxies, revved out hot rod engines, and saved the world on secret spy missions from the saddles of our Schwinns, Huffys, Murrays, and Western Flyers. Standard frames or banana bikes, it didn’t matter. Fueled by legs sheathed in short pants and high-test imagination, we were tireless adventurers with a million new adventures as close as our next breath
We were the boys of summer and we were free. Free to run and play and dream. Free to join the universal chorus of the other summer boys with Indian cries, cowboy whoops, and taunts from the sandlot.
We want a pitcher, not a glass of water…You swing like a girl…Grandma was slow, but she’s old…Go back, go back, go back to the woods, ’cause you, ’cause you, ’cause you ain’t no good.
Ghosts of the days when there were winners and losers, good natured ribbing about which nobody cared, and everybody met at the Dairy Queen for ice cream after the game.
We were the boys of summer. And oh dear Lord we had discovered girls. All kinds of girls. Those mysterious creatures who captured our collective fancies and stirred out newly minted hormones into a roiling hormone soup, constantly in danger of boiling over. We spoke in huddled groups and hushed whispers around marshmallow laden campfires about who we had set our caps for and what amorous things we would do once we were alone, all the while knowing in our deepest heart, that if she so much as let us hold her hand on the back row at church, we would probably faint. But in those days–those glorious summer days when the word was reborn each morning–they made us swoon. And that was enough.
And all these years later they still do.
Yes, we were the boys of summer. The summer grass was our bed and the summer sky our canopy. We were fueled by the fires of imagination and the promise of a thousand new summer days stretching before us.
And on a spring day in 2018 the one they used to call “Ace” looks around the trappings of the modern world, catches the essence of freshly cut grass in the air, and remembers…
The game winning home run…
Lazy afternoons fishing at the pond…
Pushing a bicycle to its limit all for the thrill of skidding on gravel…
Secrets told in hushed whispers…
Gathering by the grave of one taken too soon and wondering how it could have happened to one of us…
We were the boys of summer.
And when we close our eyes, carried back in time on the wings of memory, we still are.