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Long Live The Boys of Summer

A grown man plays Wiffle Ball no more, but cherishes the childhood memories those games will always inspire.

The days seem to last forever in summertime, particularly when you are kid, or at least a kid at heart. Seemingly endless daylight brings with it endless opportunities to experience community, usually without even thinking about it.

It’s crazy how long the summer day is, but how short the summer season is. No matter what, it seemed school was always right around the corner. Nothing lasts forever:

For everything, there is a season, for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.         

The Boys of Summer died for me a couple of years ago. The individual players, the people that cluttered the cul-de-sac night after night, they are all alive and well. Many of them are still relevant in my life.

But the fellowship born of sweat, sinkerballs and yellow plastic bats that had become such a centerpiece in this 40-something’s summer nightscape, evaporated so suddenly and definitively, that it only could be called a death.        

For five years or so, this group of gangly adolescents and over-the-hill men would play Wiffle Ball in the cul-de-sac almost every night of the summer. The size would range from six people to 14 or so; the ages ranged from about 8 to 55. Mostly, it was boys and their dads. Sometimes girls would play. I don’t think moms ever did, for whatever reason. Maybe it was their 90 minutes of having the home to themselves.        

I’m not sure the asphalt and chalk-marked bases ever really felt like a field of dreams for anyone. No one, no adults and certainly none of the kids, ever walked back to their house on any given night with even a trace of nostalgia.

I don’t think the boys consciously knew that this was a place where they could test their masculinity against that of their dad. The question every little boy wants their dad to answer affirmatively for them – “Do I have what it takes?” – was being addressed nightly.

Could they muscle up on a ball and put one over the head of the left fielder, all the way into Mr. Brown’s perfectly manicured garden? Because if they could, they’d be the toast of their team -- at least for a moment or two. Or perhaps they’d make a diving catch into a front yard – even on a ball that didn’t really require diving to catch. Those were equally awe-inspiring to the other kids.        

Occasionally one of us adults would screw it up and the question would be answered with belittlement or embarrassment. Mostly, though, I think, we got it right.        

The magic of what was happening night after night wasn’t just lost on the kids. I don’t think the dads thought there was anything particularly meaningful about what had just taken place.        

We’d sweated a lot; we knew that much. And at least half of us had played in flip-flops and swore to never do that again.         

About as deep as it ever got was that occasionally, we’d mention how good it was of us to be spending time with our kids this way. (I wonder if the kids were secretly telling each other how good it was of them to spend time with the old man.)        

There never seemed to be a reason to analyze these nights any further, or deposit anything into the memory bank. Because there would always be tomorrow night.        

The weekend before the first day of school was the unofficial end of our season. Maybe if we’d labeled it The Official End of the Season, we’d have given it at least a second’s worth of thought about how this was it for nine months.

Maybe we’d have given some ceremonial nod to the fact that carefree nights were giving way to the angst of homework and peer pressure and rules. Maybe we’d have played an extra inning, even though it was be dark. And maybe we’d chest bump after the last out and hug our kids and tell them how much better they had gotten and how much older we had gotten.

But probably not. Because there was never a feeling that this was temporary. Because even when there was no tomorrow, there was always next summer.

Two summers ago, we played probably 50 games. Last summer, we played none. The end was that sudden. One boy had moved away, but the rest had done something far worse. They had gotten six inches taller and a decade older in a span of 12 months.

In my second year of Wiffle Ball retirement, I see a couple of the boys throwing lacrosse balls or running their lawn-care service. And almost every night, I walk down to the cul-de-sac, to the house behind home plate, and watch an inning or two of the Braves with John, the elder statesmen of the crew that once was.

I miss our version of the Boys of Summer. But with it clearly in the rear view mirror, I can now see it for what it was – pure goodness. It was community. And I find tremendous refuge in knowing that my community, even my summertime, is still strong. Neighbors still act like neighbors.

There’s love, there’s fellowship and there’s always the cup of sugar when you are a little short. I just wish there was still Wiffle Ball.

 

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