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“My ma was born in London, my pa was born in France. I was born in the hospital, without my underpants.”

The summer had its rhythms. The whack of a Wiffle Ball. The whiff of a halfball. And the summer had its rhymes. The plaintiff wails of little girls in ponytails. Rhymes of sugar and spice and times that were nice. And the little girls go…

Policeman, policeman do your duty

Here comes Susan, the American beauty

She can wiggle, she can waggle, she can do the split

But I bet your bottom dollar that she can’t do this

I did go home again. Just last week. To Calvert Street in Mayfair in Northeast Philly. I was one of those boys. Boys with brush cuts and white undershirts and Converse sneakers. One of those boys who went outside at daylight, the minute our fathers left for work, the minute their cars departed, leaving a clear path for a pimple ball.

We gobbled our breakfast of champions. Mine was Corn Flakes with six spoons of sugar. That was our Red Bull. We chose up sides. No fancy-dancy rock, paper, scissors. We did odds or evens. Call it. Stick out a finger or two and it was over. Chips on the ball!

And the little girls go…

A, my name is Alice and my husband’s name is Al, we come from Alabama where we sell apples.

On this trip home, SUVs had replaced the sun-baked sedans. But everything else was where it was. The telephone poles still stood tall. The giant evergreens were bigger than ever, casting cooling shadows onto the four cement block patios, the patios that used to be the social networks of the neighborhood, the patios that were now empty. Everything was the same as it ever was. Except for the kids and the sounds that made summer.

And the little girls go…

Blondie and Dagwood went to town

Blondie bought an evening gown

Dagwood bought a pair of shoes

Daisy bought the Evening News

And this is what it said…

I stopped my car right where home plate used to be. Engraved in white chalk just in front of my house. This was the home plate I had crossed a thousand times. This was the home plate where I hung my heart and surrendered my soul. This was where, with two steps to go, I would have been called out. So, I tried to make it with one giant leap. I stretched too far, I ripped my knee, I limped to school for months. Back then, there were no fancy ice packs or sports medicine doctors. You got hurt, you limped. It was a badge of courage.

***

My steps had the best points. Sharp points, points that made the ball go farther. On a strong day, with a strong boy, it would travel over the street and through the hedges, into the victory gardens, gardens full of vines and roses.

And the little girls go…

Engine, engine number nine,

Going down Chicago line,

If the train goes off the track,

Do you want your money back?

You have to understand wireball. It is the perfect mix of power and precision. Just imagine the skill it took to stand under a telephone wire that was a whole house high and hit it with a pinkie ball. NASA scientists had worked on harder equations for many years, and we still didn’t have a man on the moon.

And the little girls go…

Strawberry shortcake, Huckleberry pie,

Who’s gonna be your lucky guy?

That was the thing about going home again. The one thing missing was the kids. They had to be somewhere. Probably inside, with their video games and smart phones and iPads.

And that’s the thing about summer. The warm breezes still blow and the high hedges still grow. But summer just doesn’t sound the same.

August 2011
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