The month of June harbors many different emotions for me. First, it’s my birth month making me another year older. That emotion alone, especially getting well into the “September of My Years” is probably a blog post in itself.
Second, this is when school ended for the summer in the New York City school system. I realize that most kids celebrate with great exuberance at the end of the School year. I say most because we would be sadly blind to forget the kids that will no longer be fed breakfast or lunch when school ends or the kids that will no longer have a place to go to escape an abusive situation at home. I think it’s important that we not forget those children that found “refuge from the storm” in the hallways and classrooms of the School.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, Rob and I were not in that situation and the end of the School year came with great joy and excitement. For me, much of that joy was based upon my anticipation of being “accepted” over the next few months.
As you are probably well aware of from other blog posts, I did not have many friends as a kid. I was the one who was made fun of and ridiculed. I was left out of most group activities. I suppose using today’s vernacular, I was bullied for most of my childhood years. My brother was unquestionably my best, and for a majority of the time, my only friend… and that was with a six-year age difference. I was never very good at sports and was “that kid” who was consistently picked last when teams were being chosen. The team that picked last was stuck with me and they were always “kind” enough to make me well aware of that fact. As in other writings, I don’t say these things to solicit sympathy or pity… it just helps put “my story” into perspective. I don’t even know if I harbor ill feelings towards the other kids. I certainly did back then, but not so much now. After all, this was inner-city New York “back in the day.” One was expected to be tough and streetwise and independent. I was none of those things. The insecurities that were born then still plague me many ways today. Psychological counseling was probably needed, but the one time I went, I lied to the counselor about everything, making it totally ineffective.
BUT (don’t you love that simple three letter word? It conveys hope).. but summers were different. I left the school that I dreaded attending every day for a seemingly endless summer of acceptance and validation. (two whole months!) Anyone else remember how long summer seemed to last? I left the hot steamy streets of New York as well as the kids that picked on me behind. Somehow, our amazing Dad, working three jobs to afford it, was able to get us a small bungalow in New Jersey where we could spend the summer. Dad and Mom understood the importance of getting us away from the “mean streets” even if just for a short time.
Rob and I called Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, the “country “. I know many will laugh at that thought, but to us, it was. Trees, a lake, bugs, clean air…. the country.
It was this country that offered me acceptance. There were not very many other kids living near our bungalow, but Rob and I made friends with most of them. It was a strange lot. Most, like us, were just there for the summer. One or two actually lived there. Some were older, some were younger. Some were bat-shit crazy, some were introverts. Some had good family lives, others not so much. Counting Robert and me, there were no more than eight or nine of us at time. It was an odd bunch for sure. But (there’s that word again ) we all accepted each other. This may have been out of necessity as, after all, these were the only kids around, but who cared? We simply accepted each other and played together pretty much every day of every week during those precious summers. Back in The City, where I was always picked last, in the country I was often picked first. I was actually considered one of the “good” ball players! Some of that may have been because I was one of the “older” kids, but again, who cared? No one was ever left out. No one was picked on and made fun of. The one time that I remember some “big kid” from another area of the lake trying to bully us and scare us, we stuck together. Frightened, but frightened together. (perhaps Rob will share that story in another post one day)
We started at sun up and went until well after sundown. Playing ball, playing soldier, playing hide and seek, exploring the vanishing marsh, dodging swooping bats in the twilight hours, catching grasshoppers, and trying to frighten each other to death with scary stories… our days… and our summers, seemed endless.
So, as school came to a close in June, this is what I looked forward to with great anticipation. Shortly, we would be on the road to New Jersey in Dads old Desoto.
For two months I would no longer be “that kid”…. the last one picked… the “mommas boy who could not fight; I would simply be Don…. accepted as that. The good and the bad. Robert would be Robert, Phillip would be Phillip, Crazy Mike would be Crazy Mike, Ray would be little Ray, but Big Ray would be Big Ray… Bobbie would be Bobbie, etc.
As the Desoto left the Lincoln tunnel and entered New Jersey, I felt my whole demeanor change. I felt accepted.
…. and Summer was endless, right?