It was Sunday afternoon after my birthday party yesterday. After so many days of winter when it was mostly always cold, the air was finally really warm, and had that special energy in it. Mom said you could smell the plants coming alive, and I think she was right.
I was over at Joey’s house. We had both just played in what the older kids called a “pickup” baseball game at Allmendinger Park. That was where two of the older kids decided to be the captains, and the other kids decided that that made sense, and then the two of them took turns picking the other kids that wanted to play to be on their teams. Most of the kids were older than we were, so we got picked last. But we both liked baseball, and were pretty good at catching and throwing and hitting, so we didn’t mind being picked last as long as we could play.
“So what you doing in math these days, mister Clubius?” mom asked as I was eating a baloney sandwich I had made for myself in the kitchen, and she was making a “big pot of spaghetti sauce for dinner” on the stove. It smelled good, kind of burned but like it was going to be really tasty. Mom LOVED math, so I figured I’d tell her all the different stuff.
“We’re doing multiplying and dividing, and still doing those times tables”, I said.
“Ach”, mom said. That was a word she used sometimes when she didn’t like something. She said it was German for “Oh dear” or “ugh”.
“Those times tables”, she said, shaking her head slowly as she stirred the big silver pot with the spaghetti sauce bubbling in it, “God I remember them. Boring rote memory. Mrs Cranbrooke.”
I woke up and I could hear the rain tapping on the window by my bed. Not hard like a storm, but just a little bit like what mom called “showers”. I always liked waking up on Saturday morning, because I didn’t have to go to school today or even tomorrow, especially today because it would be cold and wet and windy. Though it was kind of fun to be all inside my raincoat and my hood looking out at wet everything. It was like the weather, “Mother Nature” mom said, was in charge today instead of the grownups.
Last night I was watching TV, but mom came down and said she wanted “to hear what President Kennedy has to say about what’s happening in Cuba.” Dad was already down in the basement at his desk. He turned around in his wood office chair to watch too.
That “news” show came on with that Walter Cronkite guy. When the TV showed him, he turned his head and looked out of the TV at us.
Cronkite: Please standby for a statement by President Kennedy on the evolving situation in Cuba.
I was listening to songs on the radio a lot now. There were three songs this summer that I had heard a lot on the radio and were interesting because they were different from each other. Two of them were sung by what sounded like older kids.
The first they said on the radio was sung by this girl called “Little Eva”, so that seemed like a kid name to me. It was on that “CKLW” station at the “8” on the radios, and it was one of those dancing songs, like all those “twist” songs I kept hearing. I even heard kids in the park sometimes singing the song.
Everybody’s doin’ a brand new dance, now
(Come on, baby, do the Loco-Motion)
I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on, baby, do the Loco-Motion)
My little baby sister can do it with me
It’s easier than learning your ABCs
So come on, come on
Do the Loco-Motion with me
It was Saturday and mom drove me over to Molly’s house, but this time she didn’t “drop me off” but stayed too, to talk to Molly’s mom. Mom told other grownups that Molly’s mom was her “good friend”. I wondered if she was mom’s best friend too, since mom talked to her more than any of the other grownup women she knew, though not as much as when she and Molly lived across the street.
School was finally over and it was “summer break”, that’s what my teacher called it. Mom called it “summer vacation”. Whatever it was, I was really happy that I didn’t have to go to school, at least for a while, until September, which mom said was “two and a half months from now”. She said you could write “two and a half” in two different ways, as a fraction or as a “decimal”. I knew the fraction way. She showed me the decimal way, where you put the “2” and then a period and then a “5” after the period. She said the “5” after the period was “five tenths”, which she said was the same fraction as one half.
I heard the window by my bed rattling and I could feel cold coming from it. I opened my eyes. I looked at the clock on my dresser and the little hand was closer to the “8” than it was to the “7”. I had to get up. I looked down at the bunk below me and David was already awake and probably in the basement setting up all the toys without me.
I liked to turn on the transistor radio Margie gave me for my birthday in the morning and listen before I got out of bed, and while I got dressed and even took it in the bathroom with me. I listened to two different radio “stations” that were right next to each other when I turned the little “dial” on my radio. It wasn’t like the dial on the TV, which clicked to each station. You had to turn it just right to hear the sounds good.
Gabe, Jake, Herbie and I were all trying to figure out about the Civil War. Danny had got me Civil War toy soldiers for my birthday. He said that the war was a hundred years ago. The one team was blue and the other was gray. Since the one team was gray I asked him if they were Germans, but he said they were Americans, “Confederate” Americans. The blue ones were Americans too, “Union” Americans. That sounded really interesting.
Herbie said he knew about the Civil War because he had lived in the “South” before he came to Ann Arbor. He said the Confederates were the “rebels”, and all the kids he knew thought they were pretty neat, because they were better soldiers and had better generals, like “Robert E. Lee” and “Stonewall Jackson”, though that second guy got killed in a battle.
I liked looking out the big windows in my second grade classroom at school. That side of the room was all windows, looking out onto the corner of Jefferson and Fifth streets. There were four corners. One was the school and the other three just had houses. Houses with upstairs parts that grownups called “two story”, though I didn’t know what they had to do with stories, one or two. But I liked looking at them and pretending what was behind each of the windows. I also liked looking up Fifth street, until it disappeared between the trees. That was the way you walked to get to Allmendinger Park and then across the Park to get to my house. And when I looked up the street, I thought of all the interesting and fun things I could be doing at home or at the park right now, instead of sitting in this room practicing numbers and “penmanship”.
At least my school friends were here too, though only one of them sat next to me. That was my new friend Herbie, who hadn’t been in my first grade class. My old friends from first grade – Amanda, Gabe and Jake – sat in different parts of the room, though we could still see each other and make faces at each other when what the teacher was telling us wasn’t very interesting. We wanted to sit next to each other but the teacher gave us “assigned seats”.
The summer didn’t take as long as it used to. I did all the same kind of stuff, playing in the basement, in the backyard, in the park. Playing with Paul or Danny or Gabe, or Molly on Saturdays. Riding my bike to my friends’ houses, though not Molly’s because it was so far away. Climbing Kenny’s cherry tree with him to eat the cherries. Seeing Marybeth in the park playing with other older girls. Going to the bookmobile when it was by the park and “checking out” books with words and pictures on the cover that looked interesting.
Now it was August. That was the last month of summer. Next month was September. That would be fall, and that was when I had to go back to school. I didn’t want to, but all the other kids went to school and said I had to too. Some of the older kids said that if I didn’t go to school the police would come to my house and “arrest” me and make me go to “reform school”, which sounded really bad. And because mom and dad liked school so much, I never told them that I didn’t want to go back, because I figured they’d think I had turned into a bad kid. I wondered sometimes if I WAS a bad kid, but I didn’t want anybody else, specially mom and dad, thinking that I was.