These days, there is all manner of signaling device I can hang on my belt. Pagers, phones,i-Phones are available. But there is one kind of device I miss the most.
It was summer, 1970. The warm South Texas salt air perfumed the night. A summer I leaped from elementary to junior high. And that night, the stars shone in the night sky as brightly as night lights in a darkened room. We ran the neighborhood, racing from yard to yard. My friend, Ray O’Neal and I had been friends for eight years invented all types of games, usually involving chase, using ending in a massive tackle and laughter, lots of laughter. Ray would say,
“Hey let’s try this!” and we’d carry off to a whole new game. Ray was slightly older than I, but enjoyed the non-adult escapes as much as I did. Summer was all about escape, whether it was in his father’s old boat, secured fastened in his yard, but turned into an adventure, or the simple water hose, appropriate for a cooling down in the heat.
The street lamps popped on and bathed the streets in warm candle-like glow, we continued to play in the sauna heat. That night, innocents drained away to seriousness, elementary to advanced, elation to adult, for it was our last day free before school started. Our closets were filled with new jeans, new shirts and our desk covered with new wide-rule paper, pencils and assortment of tools. All was ready.
When she called, we didn’t hear at first. Mom stood on the porch,calling out into the night air, commenting to Dad about where in the world we were. God knows, she said. She called again and I turned. Ray heard it too. He said “I’ve got to go too, I’ll see you at school.”
I nodded and turned toward home. He saved one more tackle for me and when I rose up, he smiled, offered a hand and said. “It’s been a great summer.”
Mom’s voice was louder this time as her patience was becoming razor thin. I turned toward home and ran the distance back, Ray toward his house, waving over his shoulder.
“Bout time!” Mom said, annoyed.
Mom smiled slightly and motioned to go inside. Dad watched TV with the fan on and gave me a hard look.
“When your Mom calls, you come home!”
I nodded and headed towards the bathroom for a bath. After becoming as clean as a 12 year old can, I sat in my room looking at the sky, thinking – thinking about the summer that drained away like a slow leak and the my mother’s voice drifting along the street – calling me home. A small moth bounced against the window, startling me when Dad came in, sat on the bed and smiled.
“Son, tomorrow, you start at Hamlin Junior High. You’re growing up.” He patted my shoulder. “Time for sleep.”
Dad had a way of bringing reality suddenly crashing down on you like an unstable wall you weren’t expecting to fall. Gee thanks, I thought. There it was. Junior High and a long night to think about it. But as I pondered the meaning and fears of a new school, I really thought about the call home that summer night. Somehow, someway, in the late darkness of that August night, I transformed and awoke ready for cell phones, pagers and life. The night light disappeared, the paper changed to “college rule”, the clothes changed to shirts and ties.
But in all that transformation, I never lost that summer desire to escape, the desire for returning to the simple and the desire to hear that call to come home.