SUNDI MCLAUGHLIN: Popsicle Memories of a Long-Ago Summer
As the season nears its end, I am reminded of the summer I spent with my brother Bob at our grandparents' place in Arco, Idaho.
It was the '80s, my hair was ratted, my miniskirt was decorated with unicorns, and my Walkman held the musical stylings of Pat Benatar and Bananarama. We dined on junk food my parents would have never allowed. It was one of the best summers of my life.
It started with a trip to Yellowstone National Park via RV. We witnessed fields of roaming buffalo, a few stoic moose, and several curious bears. After the park, we headed to Grandma and Grandpa's house, where a block of ice was still resting in their front lawn from the previous winter! Coming from Florida, I thought this was about as cool as it could get.
We spent the summer reacquainting ourselves with the town and our old friends. You see, this small town in Idaho had once been our home until Dad got a teaching job in Florida. I was reintroduced to Renee, the first and best friend I had before we moved. We picked up right where we left off; as if no time had passed.
A gangly crew of us kids would hang out in the backyard of the church and play Red Rover and Mother May I. A couple of us girls put on our short shorts and stood on the descending steps of the church to re-enact the Nair commercial. "If you dare wear short shorts, Nair with short shorts" I felt like a star up on those stairs, until our pesky little cousin ratted me out to our grandparents.
One day as my brother and I sneaked through the backyard to go and play -- without our tattletale cousin -- my grandpa hollered for us to come inside. He sat Bob and me down and told us how disappointed he was with our treatment of our cousin. She was younger and looked up to us. He said he was ashamed of our behavior.
His words felt like a slap across the face. Crying and sick to our stomachs, we went outside with our heads hung low. "I would've rather have him whip us," my brother murmured. Our cousin, who was balancing on a log, started singing "Nanny Nanny boo boo" while she wrung her hands in front of her eyes in mock-crying.
With a sigh greater than his years, Bob called her over to play. For the rest of her visit, she never left our side.
The rest of the summer was filled with playing in the park until the street lamps came on, jumping on trampolines, and buying dime-store candy.
For breakfast, we had toast with our grandma's homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. For lunch every day, we dined on Steak-umm's and Tang. It sounds terrible, but back then my brother and I thought we were really living, with our hot beef sandwiches and the same powdered beverage the astronauts used!
Lunch was always followed with Popsicles. My grandma kept a freezer of them in varied flavors. Bob and I were partial to banana and root beer. Our cousin preferred blueberry. In the evening, after our bath, we sat between our grandparents on the couch and watched TV till bedtime. I remember the homey smell of the house, the warmth of Grandpa's hugs, and the delicate powder scent of Grandma's skin.
Grandma still lives in the same house where Bob and I spent so many nights, but it seems everything else has changed. Our tattletale cousin is now married with children. She is smart and funny, and I always look forward to seeing her when we get the chance.
The town that captivated us that summer has seen better days. When the nuclear plants closed, the town kind of rolled up its rug. But most tragic of all, my very first best friend, Renee, with whom I spent that magical summer, lost a battle with breast cancer this year.
It seems to go by so fast. I worry that I will forget all the good stuff, the things that will never make headlines but affect me far more. I worry I don't often enough tell the people I love how important they are to me.
In the end, I guess that's what that summer taught me: Enjoy the ones you love. Take pleasure in the simple things. And you're never too old for a Popsicle.
Sundi McLaughlin lives in Southern Pines.
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