store bought baby oil tan, flip-flops and cut-off jeans…..
It’s a lyric from a song, but it nearly describes the summer of my seventeenth year. I just have to change up a few words, to make it fit. I heard that song yesterday and it took me back to the green, shaded hills of Cherokee County, Georgia and my seventeenth summer…..when everything in the world seemed possible. When time seemed abundant and long. When I believed the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine was a pleasure the whole world was privileged to enjoy.
That summer, I stood beside my cousin Sherry in New Hope Baptist Church and heard her say “I Do”; and bittersweet tears spooled from my eyes, because I knew a paragraph in a chapter of my life was being written by someone else. That season, I worked behind the soda fountain counter at Fincher’s Pharmacy, sipping copious amounts of Coca-Cola and reading a lot of Seventeen Magazine, contemplating cutting my hair in one of those cute, shorter styles….and knowing I wouldn’t. Here and there, my friends and my beau would drop by Fincher’s throughout the day…
…because if we wanted to communicate it had to be done face to face…
… and plans for the afternoon and evening were concocted; Jack Fincher didn’t seem to care as long as my company/customer purchased a Coke or a milkshake. When my soda-jerk shift ended, I did a quick Superman (change of clothes) in the drugstore bathroom and walked out into the bright afternoon sunshine feeling free as a bird in flip-flops and cut-offs. The only part of the day I dreaded was inserting my key into the ignition switch of my Ford Pinto, because I never knew if I would hear the rumble of my engine or the sounds of silence. Holding my breath and saying a prayer, I was always happily surprised when it turned over and connected….prayers answered (most of the time). It was then, with windows rolled down and the radio knob turned and set to Z93, my summer day took off. As Foreigner, the Commodores, the Bee Gees, and Fleetwood Mac serenaded me from a crackling speaker, I would meet up with a friend or two…sometimes we did nothing more than sit on a porch and talk. Sometimes we took in one of our brother’s baseball games at Harmon Field. Every now and then, someone’s parents (Chrys Eichelberger) would take us out in their boat and drag us around Lake Allatoona….simply “The Lake” to us. Some days, pitiful/hilarious golf lessons were on the docket. We went to Six Flags and one time, we ventured into the dark underbelly of Atlanta…the original Underground Atlanta…a group of little country-bumpkins from a town that couldn’t even boast of a McDonald’s…and thanks to our fearless leader who claimed to be familiar with the city…we made it out alive. Barely. We ice-skated at the Omni Hotel ice rink and bowled at the old bowling lanes in Marietta because it was the closest “bowling alley” to Canton. And one Saturday night, the Callahan’s had a party as big as an Atlanta concert, in their cow pasture (now a golf course). In my recollection of that night, my flip-flopped feet are grass-damp from the humidity and I remember wishing I had worn long jeans instead of cut-offs, because chigger bites are no fun. That was the night, at seventeen, I realized I preferred songs around a campfire or back porch jam sessions over big, rowdy parties.
Those days seemed like they would never end, but they did. And in their departure, they left behind sweet memories.
What about you? What was your seventeenth summer like?
“When I think about you, I think about seventeen….the stars in the sky…funny how a melody sounds like a memory, like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night….” Eric Church
I hope you’re enjoying your summer.