I could get used to spring. I have always been an autumn kind of a guy, what with the melancholy, and of the grieving of lost times and places, and my general moping about like I am wont to do. But l have to admit, I am finding that I appreciate spring more the older I get. And after the winter we had this year, we are being treated to a glorious spring. Minnesota has a nasty habit of fast forwarding directly from winter to summer most years, but this year we are getting the sort of slow, lingering, warm up that I remember from growing up.
Spring was blissfully unencumbered by obligations. Sure, there was always the interminable masses of Holy Week that I had to serve, but once Easter was over and the smell of incense had faded from my clothes, there was little to do but look forward to summer. Each day of April, and May brought a little longer daylight, and that extra hour before the streetlights flickered on, meant that we’d be out in the street again after dinner, playing street hockey, or football, or having a wiffle ball game in someone’s back yard.
Long before the clover and the creeping charley would start greening up our lawn, we were already hard at work wearing new base paths into the hard packed soil. Until I was fourteen years old my parents never had to mow the lawn. Our never ending games of football and base ball had effective turned the backyard into a dirt lot by the time summer began.
When I finally grew too big to play games in the backyard, I turned to my ten speed, and spring became the time for great escapes into the countryside of Genesee County. As soon as the table was cleared I would be out the door and onto the bike, pedaling up Prospect on my way out of town. I’d cross the Thruway which cut a wide asphalt scar across the farmland north of town, and be into the country. Down off the big hill of the Onadoga Escarpment, I’d roll reaching unheard of speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour! That old silver Huffy had to weigh more than I did. Seemed like the only time it ever got going fast was with gravity’s assistance.
Out across the furrowed rows of muck land I’d ride, lost in my Tolkien daydreams, until the fading daylight would force me to turn back towards town. Descending Prospect in the evening gloaming, I’d turn into our gravel driveway, and the brakes would squeal as I coasted over the crackling rocks. I’d pull the bike into the pitch black of the barn, and slide the heavy wood door shut behind me. No matter how old I got, I never overcame that instinctual fear I felt of the jungle darkness inside of that old rotting barn. Somewhere back among the spilled out guts of old washing machines, and antique lawnmower parts I knew there was evil lurking. I never needed much convincing to sprint to the back porch once that door creaked shut.
As the streetlights flickered on all over town kids would be coming inside, getting cleaned up for bed, and settling down for prime time television. In this day of constant streaming entertainment, it’s hard to believe there ever was a time when the entire nation watched the same three channels night in, and night out. Adults would talk about Carson’s monologue around the water coolers, and kids would repeat the exploits of Fonzie on the playground. I like to imagine that it made us more innocent, but I highly doubt it.
When my daily allotment of situation comedy was over, it was off to bed. Laying in the back bedroom of 20 Prospect, with the door cracked slightly to let in a reassuring shaft of golden light from the bathroom across the hall, the catbirds and cardinals would trill in the lilac darkness that was descending all around us. I would lay in bed, slowly, carefully turning the dial on the AM clock radio, until behind the buzzing static, and the high pitched whining, I would hear the sounds of a baseball game from a far away city. Laying there in the dark I would marvel at the miracle of hearing a radio station from St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Pittsburgh. Places so far remote and distant from our maple shaded street in Western New York that they may as well have been Cairo, Bombay, or Timbuktu. Sleep would come eventually, as would the heat of summer, and the pain and longing of adolescence. But for those last few blissful, girl free springs that I had left, those evenings lay in front of me like untraveled roads beckoning me onward. All a person needed was a ten speed and a few hours of daylight, and freedom could be yours.