Girls of Summer

Lazy days from a Gen X childhood

| July/August 2002 Issue

We lived on the banks of the Tennessee River, and we owned the summers when we were girls. We ran wild through humid summer days that never ended but only melted one into the other. We floated down rivers of weekdays with no school, no rules, no parents, and no constructs other than our fantasies. We were good girls, my sister and I. We had nothing to rebel against. This was just life as we knew it, and we knew the summers to be long and to be ours.

The road that ran past our house was a one-lane rural route. Every morning, after our parents had gone to work, I’d wait for the mail lady to pull up to our box. Some days I would put enough change for a few stamps into a mason jar lid and leave it in the mailbox. I hated bothering the mail lady with this transaction, which made her job take longer. But I liked that she knew that someone in our house sent letters into the outside world.

I liked walking to the mailbox in my bare feet and leaving footprints on the dewy grass. I imagined that feeling the wetness on the bottom of my feet made me a poet. I had never read poetry, outside of some Emily Dickinson. But I imagined that people who knew of such things would walk to their mailboxes through the morning dew in their bare feet.

We planned our weddings with the help of Barbie dolls and the tiny purple wildflowers growing in our side yard. We became scientists and tested concoctions of milk, orange juice, and mouthwash. We ate handfuls of bittersweet chocolate chips and licked peanut butter off spoons. When we ran out of sweets to eat, we snitched sugary Flintstones vitamins out of the medicine cabinet. We became masters of the Kraft macaroni and cheese lunch, and we dutifully called our mother at work three times a day to give her updates on our adventures. But don’t call too often or speak too loudly or whine too much, we told ourselves, or else they’ll get annoyed and she’ll get fired and the summers will end.

We shaped our days the way we chose, far from the prying eyes of adults. We found our dad’s Playboys and charged the neighborhood boys money to look at them. We made crank calls around the county, telling people they had won a new car. "What kind?" they’d ask. "Red" we’d always say. We put on our mom’s old prom dresses, complete with gloves and hats, and sang backup to the C.W. McCall song "Convoy," which we’d found on our dad’s turntable.

We went on hikes into the woods behind our house, crawling under barbed wire fences and through tangled undergrowth. Heat and humidity found their way through the leaves to our flushed faces. We waded in streams that we were always surprised to come across. We walked past cars and auto parts that had been abandoned in the woods, far from any road. We’d reach the tree line and come out unexpectedly into a cow pasture. We’d perch on the gate or stretch out on the large flat limestone outcrop that marked the end of the Woods Behind Our House.



One day a thunderstorm blew up along the Tennessee River. It was one of those storms that make the day go dark and the humidity disappear. First it was still and quiet. There was electricity in the air and then the sharp crispness of a summer day being blown wide open as the winds rushed in. We threw open all the doors and windows. We found the classical radio station from two towns away and turned up the bass and cranked up the speakers. We let the wind blow in and churn our summer day around. We let the music we were only vaguely familiar with roar through the house. And we twirled.

We twirled in the living room in the wind and in the music. We twirled and we imagined that we were poets and dancers and scientists and spring brides. We twirled and imagined that if we could let everything—the thunder, the storm, the wind, the world—into that house on the banks of the Tennessee River, we could live in our summer dreams forever. When we were girls.