Today has been one of those tantalizingly warm days of early spring. The type of day where the thermometer climbs all the way to 72 degrees and lures everyone out of doors to languish on restaurant patios and stroll their dogs around the park for the first time in 6 months. And although the 40-degree evenings are quick to remind us that it’s not quite summer yet, the sun kissing my bare shoulders and the first whiffs of fresh cut grass fill me not only with anticipation for the upcoming summer season, but also with nostalgia for a simpler time gone by in my life. It was the summer of 1998 and it was the best summer of my life.
During my 6th grade year I had finally gotten “The Curse” and blossomed from a chubby, baby-faced tomboy to a tall, gangly teen who looked at least 3 years older than my 12 young years. I shot up to 5’9” seemingly overnight and for the first time, boys were starting to pay attention to me. On the last day of school that May, we had our Yearbook Signing Party and dismissed on a half day. I can still remember the whole middle school congregating in the big parking lot behind the gym, the smell of hot asphalt filling my nostrils as the early morning dew was lifted by the rising temperatures. There was a sense of excitement in the air that was more than the ordinary enthusiasm for summer break.
No one memory stands out more than the others for me, and there was no particular life changing event that transpired. It was a summer for girls who were coming of age at a time in history when the internet was an option but we chose to play outside instead. I spent every day of my life outdoors that summer, rain or shine. In anticipation of the grand opening of the city pool on Memorial Day Weekend, my best friend Jenny and I would slather ourselves in Hawaiian Tropic oil and bake on the front porch of my parent’s house, dragging out cold drinks, YM and Teen magazine and the cordless phone to keep us busy for hours.
After the pool opened, it seemed all the cool kids between the ages of 12 and 16 were there. For my group of friends, our parents would drop us off at 10am when the gates opened and not pick us back up until they locked at 6p. It was cheaper than childcare I suppose. Mom would pack my cooler with crisp chef salads and cold cut sandwiches with potato chips on most days, but sometimes I would get lucky and be sent with a $10 allowance to put toward a delivered pizza or a 44oz cherry limeade and hot dog from Sonic. This also happened to be the first ongoing major fight between me and my parents that stemmed from puberty. All my friends were allowed to walk from the pool less than a mile up the road where Sonic stood side-by-side with Taco Bell, but my parents said no way, because it was alongside the busiest road in my hometown and they probably didn’t want me to be abducted by a stranger. It infuriated me that I had to stay behind like a loser waiting on my friends to bring me back my food, but in hindsight, I understand my parent’s apprehension in knowing their 12-year-old daughter was walking up and down a busy highway in a swimsuit top and cutoff jean shorts every day.
The water at that pool was unnaturally cold for ¾ of the season. I remember standing on the side, working up the nerve to plunge into the frigid water for the first time each day. Then it was too cold to bring yourself to get out and do it all over again, so we would stay in the water until our skin pruned or we were forced out by hunger. Back and forth we would swim, having races to see who was the fastest or who could hold their breath the longest. I would watch in awe as my more athletic gymnast friends would do flips off the diving board and the guys would see who could make the biggest splash or push the lifeguards to their very limit to see just how much they could get away with.
When the sun started to get low in the sky, I would go home to clean up, the water from the shower head beating the sun into my red and brown skin. My nights were spent wandering around the weekly classic car cruise in, seeing the 8 o’clock show at the Bonnie Kate Theatre, or best of all, tempting fate on the precariously and quickly assembled rides when the carnival came to town for a week. That summer was the first time my parents started leaving me home unattended for an hour or so, and each time they would leave I would eagerly stand at the window watching them back out of sight, then digging into my dad’s vinyl collection. I would lay on their bed and listen to Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix and The Cars until I heard the gravel crunching under tires as they came back up the long driveway. I got so turned onto music that summer, I went out and bought Experience Hendrix, a “best of” CD and I played it until it scratched. I remember being on the carnival’s ferris wheel with a boy from a neighboring school while “Little Wing” played through the headphones we were sharing of my Discman. The night smelled like funnel cakes and I wished with everything he would kiss me but never did.
Riding back home to my parent’s rural home in the “holler,” I would sink back into the car seat and roll the window all the way down. The night air was perfumed with honeysuckle and the bullfrogs and crickets chirped and croaked their songs in unison. I would finally retire to my room after my parents kissed me goodnight and stay up til the wee hours on 3-way calls or having slumber parties, gossiping and giggling with my friends and making plans for the next day.
When the weather gets warm, so does my heart thinking back to this wonderful time in my life. I am able to so clearly remember the sights and sounds that made everything seem so magical because there were no distractions. I worry that the youth now are so engaged in their iPhone that they don’t take note of life’s small gifts and their memories will never be jogged to these happy times by a certain smell or taste. Will the girls of this generation get the same rush of exhilaration when their crush “likes” their Instagram post as I did when the boy I liked shared my towel under the pool pavilion during a thunderstorm? The summer of 1998 is so special to me. Life was still so innocent, but I was growing up and becoming my own person. It was before I started to see the sadness and evil that can exist in the world that would eventually harden me into the person I am today. Life was joyful because that was all we knew. As I’m growing older, I’m attempting to come back around to those concepts in my life-to simplify, unplug and fully appreciate life’s small pleasures.