We used to get the books we were assigned for summer reading on the same day that school let out and they had a future beam to them. A future that glimmered with knowledge. But usually, halfway through My Side of the Mountain, the social security of that knowledge leaked into the swimming pool down on Charles Street.
I mowed the lawn. Raided our neighbors gardens for tomato wars because our mother would have skinned us alive. Every glitch of scholastic authoritarianism seeping into that same pool. Or another one, guarded by teenagers in bikinis that fit too snugly for reality.
Later I cooked for a time at a restaurant that gave up the ghost each summer. Some cooks would tie on to clean the restaurant, some would moonlight at other spots. Not me. I rode around town on my bicycle and then took a trip to the opening of the Mississippi to watch the freighters manage the spot where ocean became that baby shit brown river.
And one summer I rode horses and planted fence posts to divide ranch territory from Mexico. After that, I couldn’t separate being tired from sundown for months. My parents, particularly my father, telling me over and over, you’ll never forget this summer. At the time, the girl I loved had left me for another more available haircut. So I didn’t need them telling me I wouldn’t forget it. Cars wrapped around telephone poles. But I didn’t think that in the midst of all that memory, I’d miss the ranch work more than I’d miss the girl.
by Hank Cherry