Summer Skin

Something about the quality of light tonight reminded me of summers in Oak Park.

Dusk is deceptive. Everything turns deep blue. Shadows and light blend into one. Depth fades. We scramble through backyards blindly, illuminated solely by the flicker of fireflies, and surrounded by the sound of children’s laughter.

Oak Park, Illinois, the first suburb west of Chicago, was, at its best, a True American Neighborhood. There were kids everywhere. We formed football leagues. We sold lemonade. We roller-skated, built forts, and climbed trees. The greatest evil to befall Forest Avenue, there in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, was neighborhood bully Gary Garber. The worst thing he ever did was break a window or two.

I was eight-years-old. The world was just a few blocks wide then. Sean and Dusty Well, Joe and Jon Champelli, David Wright, Cindy, Katie and Billy Myers, Chris and I were the sole population of that world. Summers afternoons found us gathered in front of our house playing Wiffle ball. As the sun fell, and the last ball swirled down the storm drain, we repaired to the Myers tree-lined backyard for all-night games of Kick The Can.

Oak Park, Illinois, was also the End of Innocence. It was there in the front room of 550 Forest Avenue that my parents sat Chris and I down to tell us they were divorcing. Not that it should have come as any surprise. But it did.

Tonight, though, riding the bus through Central Park as the last strains of sunlight filtered through the trees, I went back there for a second. Everything turned deep blue. Shadow and light blended into one. Depth faded. In my mind, I scrambled blindly through those backyards again. The world shrank to just a few blocks wide, and I could almost hear Dusty yell through the darkness, “Ollie ollie oxen free!!!”

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