June 26, 2013

Why is it that summers used to last so much longer back then? School would be out in early June and by the time the horrid month of September rolled around, it seemed as if three years had passed.

What fun it was to be young during summer. No homework, no need to stay in shape, no starving oneself to make weight for wrestling, girls galore at the country club and on the beach, softball on the public lawns of Greenwich, CT, and soccer on the lawns of Vouliagmeni, east of Athens, where Greek ship owners parked their yachts”€”sailing boats, that is.

The first man to own a gin palace was Aristotle Onassis, who had a Canadian frigate converted, and it all went downhill from there. Youth never worries and takes its fun whenever and wherever it can get it; hence one didn”€™t worry about being locked up in boarding school until it actually happened. (Now, in old age, I worry about something unpleasant months before I have to go through with it.)

“€œWhat fun it was to be young during summer.”€

How quickly and easily one fell in love during those long summer days and nights, and”€”thank God”€”how even more rapidly one fell out of love when something more exotic came along. I”€™d say on average there were three to four major romances during those unending summers”€”with each one starting “€œfor life and forever after”€ until the inevitable happened. Time seemed to go so slowly that I am now embarrassed at how little a bite at cherry I had with all that time my hands.

The first time I ever kissed a girl was during a hot summer evening. Her name was Marina. She was eleven and I was twelve. Then came Margo, Isla, and Mary. (Then came September and the kissing had to stop.) Amazing how 64 years later I don”€™t only remember their names but exactly what they looked like. I”€™m sure that they wouldn”€™t recognize me now, and vice-versa.

Yes, as the song says, “€œSummertime/And the livin”€™ is easy,”€ with those haunting Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, and Joni James songs. Edward Hopper’s masterpiece Summertime depicted a beautiful and shy young woman standing on some steps with her hat shielding her from the sun.

Those were the golden-haze years after the war, when baseball was played in flannels, players flung themselves on guard railings without pads to catch a fly ball, pitchers went nine innings, and there was no trash-talking in pro or college football. Every man, rich or poor, wore a suit and a hat and took his hat off when a lady entered an elevator. Taxi drivers spoke English”€”Brooklynese, actually”€”and were either Jewish or Italian, with a few Greeks thrown in for good measure. They wore caps, were extremely polite, and most of the yellow cabs were Packards with jump seats. Fifth Avenue went both ways and Harry Truman used to walk up and down it early in the morning without the Secret Service. When in New York, he lived at the Carlyle. Through the mist of time and nostalgia I now imagine summers where doors were left unlocked, children played in the streets, crime was nonexistent”€”at least where I lived”€”and people really did look out for each other.


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