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The Cracker Barrel: Sweet summertime

Back then, summers lasted. From the frantic chants of "School's out, school's out, teacher let the monkeys out" on through the majestic blue-sky mornings when you stepped outside barefoot and felt the dew-damp grass between your toes, to the occasional ecstasy of a tree-snapping, duck-drowning rip-snorter of a thunderstorm, summer rolled on and on and on, a great comforting river of time, so long and so wide and so embracing that worries disappeared around the bend. Photo Illustration

There's something about the textures of summer that makes you remember the days of your youth.

The trickle of sweat running down your side, the tang of a just-picked tomato, the night sounds of whip-poor-wills and tree frogs and billions of bugs - all conspire to hurtle you back through the years to the summers when you were a kid.

Back then, summers lasted. From the frantic chants of "School's out, school's out, teacher let the monkeys out" on through the majestic blue-sky mornings when you stepped outside barefoot and felt the dew-damp grass between your toes, to the occasional ecstasy of a tree-snapping, duck-drowning rip-snorter of a thunderstorm, summer rolled on and on and on, a great comforting river of time, so long and so wide and so embracing that worries disappeared around the bend.

Summer seemed a magic time, a strange dimension in which even the pull of gravity was lessened. Maybe it had to do with trading in your school shoes for a pair of sneakers. Suddenly you felt much lighter, capable of running faster and jumping longer and climbing higher than you thought possible.

Or maybe it was just that gravity-laden adults receded into the background and along with other kids you were free to soar.

Whatever the reasons, summers were wonderful back then. The real you (not the school-year you) emerged from its chrysalis of responsibility and took to skipping down the lane. Away from the all-seeing eyes of teachers and parents, you took the hooligan path of petty thievery, laziness and moral lassitude.

A melon stolen from the neighbor's garden tasted honey sweet. Sneaking off before your chores were finished felt so good it made you nervous. Sitting hidden in the tree branch pretending not to hear your mother calling made you shiver with delight.

And the projects and the ballgames and the dreams! Lord, it was all so exciting and so twitchy-nerve alive, so rounded and ongoing and perfect.

I remember the summer we built the raft and poled it, half-submerged, down the channel that ran to Mud Lake. And the summer we built the soap-box racers, scouring the dump for buggy wheels and tin cans to mount on the orange-crate hoods as headlights. And the summer we built the Indian camp, a dozen huts of bent saplings thatched with meadow grass, and the ring of rocks for the council fire, and the homemade bows and arrows so patiently crafted we found they could puncture skin at a distance of 10 paces.

There was an innocence built into those summers of yore. Granted, there was some poor judgment, as you found out when you came back home to your unfinished chores. And it's true that smoking corn-silk tobacco is not provocative of good health.

But we hadn't learned that overexposure to sunlight could cause cancer, so we all turned nut brown and felt extremely well, and if questioned as to what a lawsuit was, we'd probably have figured it was something worn by a judge.

Then we'd have put such nonsense out of mind and gotten back to the important things, like working more Neatsfoot Oil into the baseball mitt or digging up some worms with which to tantalize the bluegills, secure in the knowledge that summer was forever.

Collections of Craig Nagel's columns are available at CraigNagelBooks.com.

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