The Boy Who Saved Summer: Part 1

big black lab

Zach’s bedroom was awake with sunlight.

It always was first thing in the morning. His parents,  who liked to sleep late when they could,  had decided that their only child should have the bedroom that faced east. In fairness, they had given him that bedroom not only so he would not sleep late but they believed their child should start every day with sunshine.  A bright beginning to a day would make their youngster to start each day on the right foot. It would fill his day with the promise of the possible. .


By and large there strategy had worked. Zach was an exceptionally happy and exuberant kid. The type of child that whenever you looked at him there seemed to be a smile and on his face. He loved to laugh and had an infectious giggle and an enthusiasm so powerful the could always rally his friends to help him even with the most improbable projects.


Most mornings he bounded out of bed. He would complete his morning ablutions, face washing, teeth brushing, and running a comb through his thicket of curly hair, as quickly as possible. Then dash down the stairs to inhale his breakfast. During the week this consisted mainly of cereal and a small glass of OJ as both his parents work. But on weekends Mom would make him breakfast of bacon and eggs or his favorite waffles with lots of butter and maple syrup. In both cases, as soon as breakfast was over he was out the door.


Summer mornings were devoted to sports and athletic activities of all sorts. During the week he would go down to Union Field, a city owned athletic complex, for a camp his Mom had enrolled him in. They played baseball, and dodgeball, and tennis. There was archery, nature class, and arts and crafts. His favorite though were swimming lessons with Miss Alice.  He was naturally comfortable in the water and she had a way of bringing out the best in him. Often his reward for doing something particularly well was a hug. This made him blush and squirm while at the same time always pushing him to do his best.


He managed to collect souvenirs from all of his activities. Baseball and dodgeball had each provided him a scar on his knees. The baseball scar had occurred when had tried to slide into second base when he had shorts on and in dodgeball when he was tried to escape being hit by Jay Kelly and slipped and fell onto to the asphalt. In nature class he made a a plaster of Paris mold of a fox’s pawprint he had made while on expedition to the nearby woods with his class. His teacher had made the mold and awarded to Zach as he was the one who discovered the tracks.   He and the class had gone into the woods looking for animal tracks and he had found the fox print. The teacher had showed them how to make a mold of the print by surrounding it with a dirt wall and laying down the plaster. As finder of the track he had been awarded custody of the mold.


He wasn’t very good in Arts and Crafts. He could never seem to make his fingers do the things that there were supposed to do and his exuberance made him lack patience.  For As a consequence, while he loved the idea of making a lanyard,  he couldn’t get his fingers to make the little loops correctly and his work always looked a little lopsided. The only reason he got anything done was because his friend MaryAnn had helped him with the stitches and eventually he had persevered enough to have a blue, white and gold wristlet. It was far from perfect, and in fact some of his friends teased him about it. He did not care. He was proud of it and continued he worked so hard to create it.


In tennis he had been awarded a certificate of most improved forehand. In archery one day he had put all the arrows into the bullseye and was awarded the order of Robin Hood which was really nothing more than a robin’s feather but he was so proud of it he put on his desk at home.


Zach’s favorite mementos from camp came from swimming. He treasured them not only because Miss Chatham was his favorite and he would do all he could to please her and get those treasured hugs, but he genuinely loved the water. He loved the way it felt on his skin on a hot day. He loved the smell of the pool and the way the rough cement of the deck felt against the bottom of his feet. But mostly he loved the way he felt when he was in the water. He felt like an explorer, an astronaut exploring some strange new world and the better he got at swimming the better to explore it. That summer he had passed both his advanced beginners and intermediate swimmers courses and the Red Cross had awarded him pins for each of these accomplishments which he promptly pinned to his favorite pairs shorts.


When Camp ended at noon, he would rush home in the heat the day for lunch only stopping occasionally to pop the tar bubbles on the street. Sin Mom and Dad worked,  his baby sitter, Mrs. D’Angelo, would be at home to greet him. She was an elderly widow whose children were grown and moved away. As a consequence, her grandchildren lived far away and she adopted Zach as a surrogate. . She would listen to his daily camp with great interests exploits while she making him his lunch… his favorite being either crunchy Skippy and Schmuckers Rasberry on whole wheat bread or Mrs. D’Angelo’s specialty fried bologna on white with a touch of yellow mustard.  There would be chips and Kool-Aid and for dessert fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. .


After lunch he was ready to go out and search for his friends for more fun and games but Mrs. D’Angelo would never let him. She thought vigorous activity right after lunch would be “bad for his digestion.” Instead  they would go to the big couch in the study and she would read to him from chapter books such as “The Wizard of Oz,” or When We Were Six or his favorite “Encyclopedia Brown”  that he was a little to young to read by himself.  Mrs. D’Angelo read with enthusiasm and emotion often giving the characters unique voices. That summer she had decided to read him the entire Misty of Chincoteague series and he had been entranced wondering if his parents would let him have a “Misty” of his own.


Sometimes, and to his everlasting embarrassment, as he was way too old for naps, he would fall asleep while he was being read too. On other days, when Mrs. D no longer had a voice for reading  all he would read a book on his own or do a jig saw puzzle or other little projects to bide away the time until the D gave the all clear for him to go out again.


Often,  when he went out in the afternoon he would be accompanied by his dog, Byron  a big black lab who considered himself Zach’s younger brother even though he was older. He never set out to take Byron along. This was something that dog, like all little brothers,  decided to do on his own.  Zach, like all tolerant older brothers,  never minded when he padded along quietly after him.


His favorite afternoon activity was to play at brook that ran along the back of the houses that were on his street. There, he and his friends, could always find something fun to do. They would build minnow traps the way his father had showed him the year before. You would take stones found at the bottom of the stream and make a U with the opening facing up stream. They never caught a lot of minnows but it was always fun to getting wet especially on really hold days. Or they would go turtle hunting. Searching for the box turtles that often lived in the skunk cabbage by the edge of the stream. When they found an exposed clay bed along the creek they would take they would craft it into small people, small animals or miniature forts.


There were only two downsides to playing in the brook.


First, and for reasons not fully understood by Zach playing in the creek would excite Byron beyond all reason. He would often run from child to child barking and pushing them out of the water with his snout. And when that failed he would lay on the bank, his head resting on his paws, his eyes scanning the children, ready to jump in at a moments notice.


Second, playing in the stream often made you filthy. Not that that was bad. Getting completely covered in mud and clay and grass and whatever else was a huge amount of fun. Or at least that is the way Zach saw it. Unfortunately, Mrs. D and his mother saw it quite differently. They would oget very cross with him when he would come home from these adventures. Often they would not let him into the house unless he took all of his clothes off, including his underwear, even before he got into the house.


Another favorite afternoon activity for Zach was exploring the woods at the end of the street with his friends. There were lots of trails and almost all of them led to one adventure or another. It was not an uncommon site for those passing on the street to see a group of children, some with back packs on, walking into the forest with a large black dog at their lead. Once inside the wood Zach would almost always make the decision for the group which way to go.


They could go over to the slate mine, which was really a small hillside whose slope had been ripped open by some torrential downpour long ago. That was fun because you could find neat rocks and slide down its crumbly slope.


There was the pine grove which held huge evergreens that were remarkably evenly spaced as if someone had planted them. The forest floor with thick with discarded needles and to walk into the woods was like walking into a church it was so silent. It was a great place to play hide and seek or to make nests out the needles and tell each stories that every one claimed was true and everyone also knew were made up.


Occasionally, while walking along one of the paths Byron would get all excited and he would bark and run back in forth until Zach made him stop. Invariably, it would be the carcass of some poor animal that had died. And even though the smell was often hideous and the dead body a  little scary to look at everyone had to examine the poor beast often poking it with a stick to see if there what was inside and everyone running when they discovered maggots or anything else really gross.


On one walk that summer they had discovered an old lean too that some previous set of adventurers had built. Who ever they were had really built it well with good strong branches and some discarded 2 x 4 s set on rocks that were arranged on what must have been a fire pit at one time. The gang and he had decided to make it their fort and soon began bringing cherished items from home to mark it as there own. His good friend Rebecca, who lived across the street from him had even made a flag for the place. She had taken one of her father’s old T-shirts that had a big black dog on it and cut off the sleeves and painted 10 stars around the dog, one for each one of the kids in the gang. And while Becky’s dad was not too pleased about losing one of his favorite T-shirts it was a hit with the kids and it was hung with honor on the inside of the lean to.


Even on the afternoons in which he could find no one to play with he still always managed to have fun. Somedays he would walk over to his pop-pop’s house who lived a couple of streets over. Grandpa was always glad to see him and they would have fun together. Grandpa loved to play chess and he was teaching Zach to play and even though he wasn’t  very good yet they always had fun playing. Sometimes he would sit in his grandpas lap, which was always warm, comfortable and smelled of old wool and bay rum, while he would read to him books to such as Emile and the Detectives or A Wrinkle in Time. And on really special days they would go downstairs into the basement where they would turn off all the lights and put a flashlight under their chins and tell each other ghost stories until they were so scared they had to come up stairs and have milk cookies.

[Part 2: Tomorrow]

About 34orion

Winston Churchill once said that if you were not a liberal when you were young you had no heart, and if you were not a conservative when you were older then you had no brain. I know I have both so what does that make me?
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