For our last week’s August posting two more Writing It Real members have sent in short essays about summer memories. I know you will relate and remember your own summer games and family time as you read. It is so good to receive your essays and poems that I am going to call for back-to-school memories for our September posts. Write them, email them to me, and see them posted each Thursday! If you do not want to use the contact form and past the writing into the form, mail it as a Microsoft Word attachment to my personal email. In the meantime, enjoy this writing by Mona Anderson and Linda Caplan.
Who Plays Jacks? By Mona Anderson
Dumping out my son’s desk drawer, I wonder how I’ve let him live to age 39 without taking this junk. He has a house. He has kids. He’s a grown-up, for goodness sake. Among the usual broken pencils and dried-out rubber bands, I recognize a small cloth bag and spill its contents onto the bed. Ten spiky jacks and two red rubber balls. I pick up the jacks and rub them around in my palms, feeling the sharp points.
I’m eight again, almost nine. It’s a hot and sticky Minnesota summer day, and the sweat trickles down my back and face. I sit on the smooth concrete steps of our new house and scatter the jacks, then throw up the golf ball, much better for bouncing than the rubber one, and easily do one-sies on one bounce. I scatter the jacks again, toss the ball, and pick up two at a time, then, three, and four. Eventually, my small hand scoops up five at a time on one bounce, and I grab the ball out of the air, triumphant. Over and over I scatter, toss up the ball, pick up. Holes are worn in my white canvas tennis shoes from constantly rubbing on the cement.
From my perch on our front steps, my head bent over the jacks, I peek at the kids playing on the jungle gym and slide in the school playground across the street. I look for the girl with the long blonde ponytail who often rides by on her bike. I never look up but I always hope she’ll stop and ask if she can play with me. I wonder if she’ll go to the same school in the fall. Maybe even be in my class. I wonder if she likes Ozzie and Harriet or The Real McCoys. Or jacks.
Holding these jacks in my hand now, I decide to keep them. Later I’ll share my find with my best friend of sixty years, the girl with the long, blonde ponytail, the girl who did love jacks.
Catalina by Linda Caplan
We always went during the last week of August. In those days, most schools started mid-September, right around my youngest sister’s birthday, September 15. School let out just about the time of my other (we were three sisters in all) sister’s birthday, June 16.
The idea was our mother’s. A special trip with her three married daughters and all grandchildren we had produced at the time. My daughter, Carole, the oldest, was about six when mom started taking us to Catalina Island, 26 miles across the sea. That would have been 1983. A week on an island filled with pleasures and fun only kids can imagine. And no men, no husbands. Period.
My younger sister, Andee, had three boys, Douglas, who also was six, and his brother Russell, who was just eight months younger. Douglas was adopted as a newborn and Andee became pregnant just after his adoption. Isn’t that how it always happens? Try conceiving for years, adopt a baby, pressure is gone and bingo, another one is on the way. Then came Kevin, a couple of years after that, which would make him about four. My own son, Daniel, was also four.
My youngest sister Gayle had three girls, Meredith, five, Jamie, three, and Michelle who was barely walking at the time of our first sojourn. That made up the tribe of grandchildren, eight cousins whose pecking order allowed them to all get along.
But before we landed at Catalina, we had to pack up an immense amount of gear: umbrellas, beach chairs, balls, board games, cards (Uno), towels, food, clothes, sandals, and more. That was where our dad came in. He helped tie the chairs and umbrellas together with twine, and he and our husbands drove us down to the pier in San Pedro where we’d carry everything on to the Catalina Express. The Express only took an hour+ from dock to dock, but in that hour, the waters could get rough, the kids could get seasick, or pass out from the motion. We might spot flying fish or dolphins (if we were lucky) and the ocean might be calm and smooth sailing. Once ashore the boat porters started unloading and if I remember correctly, there were some kids with red wagons who we paid to schlep all the stuff up the steep hill from the beach to the two condos Mom had rented.
The Bahia Vista was kind of a second-class condo complex. But that didn’t bother us in the least. I don’t remember the sleeping order, but it changed from night to night. Days were filled with frolicking at the postcard-sized beach in Avalon, swimming (the ones that were old enough) out to the floating barge, jumping off, and swimming back. Then trudging back up the hill for lunch, usually tuna sandwiches or quesadillas and soft drinks, mostly Tab which was mom’s favorite. . . and down again to play beach games (Smashball) and walk over to the old-fashioned arcade to compete in skee ball or pinball. Mom, my sisters, and I staked an umbrella in the sand, put out our chairs, and read, talked, and watched the kids. Often times we’d meet other families who came to Catalina for the same week each year. We’d all visit and talk about what had taken place in their families over the past year. After the beach, we packed up, trudged up the hill again, had pizza or hamburgers for dinner, took showers, watched TV, horsed around with the kids, and finally went to bed, exhausted from the day’s activities. And so our week in Catalina began. The next day, we’d start all over again. Seven glorious days.
When our week was up we were met in San Pedro by dad and our husbands. Eight sunburned bodies hugged and kissed goodbye. School was about to start for some, A week or two later for others. But when we gathered during the year for birthday parties, holidays, or special events, everyone had one thing on their mind. Next year’s trip to Catalina and what fun things we would plan and experience that would make for an even better trip the coming last week in August.