Sidelines: Summer's half over before it's begun

I looked out my front door and saw two neighbor kids sitting on the sidewalk in front of their house. They're about 8 and 10, a brother and sister. Usually full of energy and zest, they looked bored, like they had run out of things to do.

It has been a while, but I remember what summer was like at that age.

You looked forward to summer all year. Free from the burdens of school and Sunday school, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. For boys, summer meant playing baseball on the dusty, vacant lot at the end of the block. Some days you'd get lucky and the Little League field at the other end of town might be free, but once the bigger kids showed up, they always chased you off. It didn't matter if you were there first.

Summer also meant riding our bikes all over town, except the south side, because we weren't allowed to cross the railroad tracks. Back then, you didn't have to worry about anything except for traffic and an unleashed stray dog. A bike was your first taste of freedom, a forerunner to when you became a teenager and could drive around in your parents' car. As a kid, you rode your bike almost anywhere in town; as teenagers, we drove to neighboring towns. Either way, we felt like big shots.

At dusk, summer was catching lightning bugs which we kept in jars with holes cut in the top, that is, when we weren't playing tag, hide-and-seek, or kick the can. We didn't need the First Lady to tell us to go outside and play; we were already there. No one had air conditioning, so it just made sense.

I usually spent a week every summer at my cousin's house in DeKalb and he spent a week at mine in Rochelle. His house was a few blocks from a park district field where local men played softball. Return a foul ball to the concession stand and they gave you a stick of powdery gum. It was never good gum, but we didn't care because it was free.

Summer was also a time for block parties, cookouts, family reunions at the Chief Shabbona Forest Preserve with relatives I didn't know, free movies downtown, backyard campouts, ice cream cones that melted over your hand before you could finish them, roller skates, cap guns, bubble gum cards, and frosty mugs at the root beer stand.

Boys lived in white t-shirts, long blue jeans and Keds; no one thought to wear shorts unless they went swimming. The girls always wore summer dresses or cutoffs. Like Huck Finn, many of us went barefoot when we could. It made us feel like rebels.

Back then, summer was almost endless. To an adult, summer is merely the time between spring and fall. You do the same things you do the rest of the year, only a little slower because of the humidity.

In a way, summer is a lot like life. It starts out so enthusiastically, with hope and promise and opportunities. Then, gradually, it begins to wear you down. Around July, the days start to drag like they have anchors tied to them. It isn't until the middle of August, when high school football practice starts and you sign up for school, that you learn to appreciate summer for what it is.

That's when you realize summer doesn't really last forever. It may seem like it when you're young, but it doesn't. When you get older, summer is half over before it even gets started, and when it is over, you don't know where it went.

So enjoy every moment while it's here, any age, any time of year.

As I watched those kids across the street, I really wanted to share that little bit of wisdom with them. But I knew they wouldn't understand. It's something you have to learn for yourself.

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