The Magical Summer Nights of Walking and Waiting

This quote has been rolling around in my mind since I first saw it.  How could one sentence so specifically capture the essence of my youth! There is something in those words that speak to a very specific time in my life- a time when I was no longer a child, but not yet old enough to have the freedoms of a teen.  A time when the possibilities seemed endless, but the reality was much smaller and less glamorous.

I grew up in a traditional suburb in Indiana on the southern tip of Lake Michigan.  It was too big to have the charm and accessibility of a small town, but not quite big enough to offer the excitement we thought we needed as precocious teens. My home from 4th grade on was in a neighborhood of two streets- two cul de sacs to be exact.  I can't say exactly how many homes there were in my subdivision- I'd guess 20-30, but I can tell you that I knew everyone's names.

 One of the great things about my neighborhood was that there were a lot of kids, many around my age.  I was lucky to have a girl one year older who moved in across the street from me. We were fast friends and found ourselves hanging out a lot.  Carol (forever to be known as "Carol, who lived across the street from me") and I were always looking for something to do during the summer.  Because this was the 80's, we did our fair share of "laying out", watching "All My Children" and "General Hospital", and thinking about important hair questions like to perm or not to perm, Sun-In or lemon juice. (For the record, I unwisely said yes to both.)  We made cookies (chocolate oatmeal no bake and chocolate chip with twice the dough, half the chips), we made popcorn (with cheese on top). But in the evening, our favorite thing to do was walk the streets of the neighborhood.

We walked the streets each night in a cloud of bug spray filled with anticipation that maybe, possibly something exciting would happen in our little suburban enclave.  It rarely did, but that didn't stop us from hoping! On a good night, if we were lucky, some of the neighborhood boys would also be outside and we would entertain ourselves by watching them play frisbee or throw shoes at the bats flying around the street light.  Sometimes we would join forces and hang out together. We would spend our summers falling in and out of crushes with the boys and their friends. These crushes were usually not reciprocated, but we were optimistic that this would be the night they finally saw us in a new light.  We walked and talked about life, we mused about our typical teenage problems that always seemed bigger than they were, and we poured over other things that were actually pretty darn big even by adult standards.  We tried to solve world problems when we failed at solving our own. We took in the beauty of the summer nights- ample stars, full moons, meteor showers, lunar eclipses.  We ate snacks outside, we sat on the curb under the maple trees and talked to our neighborhood friends life and our thoughts on the future.  And still, we waited for that magical something that was going to transport us from our boring lives in the cul de sac to a new world of excitement.

What we didn't know then and I suppose we couldn't possibly have known with our limited perspective, was that THIS -all of those boring nights walking the streets- would be what we would remember many years later.  The great excitement that we were waiting for never really came around. Eventually, there were boyfriends and cars, jobs and school, colleges and moves.  And while I certainly remember those bigger moments, it is the nights of walking and "waiting for something better" that stand out most in my memories.  Those were the nights that we wished away but also thought would last forever, with friends we knew we would always have. In that magical time, before real life kicked in, we were making memories that were leaving deep imprints on our lives. Those are the moments I wish I could relive.

One night our group watched the great movie "The Big Chill". When it was over, in a rare show of sentimentality we all agreed that would be us in 20 years getting together (minus the dead friend) and hanging out like old times.  If only... We scattered as we went off to different colleges, still getting together here and there but not in the same way.  Then, my family moved to another state- severing the physical connection to my old neighborhood, but not the emotional one.  Our post-college lives led us to different life choices- marriage, grad school, jobs- and various geographical locations. With our physical separation came the inevitable emotional separation.

I miss the old neighborhood.  I miss knowing the names and stories of all who lived there. I long to hang out and walk the streets with my old friends.  I imagine that Carol's dad would still offer to spray us with bug spray before we hit the streets. I think we could still find a frisbee to toss around and a curb to sit on. I know that we would still find big things to discuss and world problems that needed our attention. Under the soft glow of the street light, we would still see our carefree teenage selves and not the middle-aged people we are now burdened with the reality of careers and marriage, children and aging parents, money and disease.  As Carol's parents- one of the last to remain in the neighborhood- prepare to move, even the idea of this reunion becomes more distant.  Our final connection to that time and place will be lost and that makes me feel a little sad.  But, I am also thankful that my special memories allow me to take those little field trips in my mind. In my daydreams, I am happy to be 14 again and this time I know to stop waiting for something more exciting to happen, to pay more attention, this is it- savor it!

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