Summer memories never fade away

It’s been so hot the last couple of days, I haven’t gone outside for more than a few minutes until the sun’s gone down, and even then walking down the middle of the street still feels like a furnace. Trading the blazing heat of a parking lot for the cool, dry air conditioning of a store is blissful, and ice cream just tastes better.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the summers of my youth, the memories coming to me in very broad strokes and brief flashes.

In my earliest memories, I’m splashing around in a plastic pool on the lawn that’s both impossibly huge and not big enough. I’m three or four years old. It’s 1975, and my parents frequently take me to the 31 flavors next door for ice cream. The pull me in my red wagon. I wear osh kosh overalls. I’m not sure if I actually remember this, or if my brain has created memories to go with the pictures I’ve seen.

In the summer of 1976, we move to Houston. My father attends Texas Heart Institute. I’m in a pre-school that I hardly remember, save for a refrigerator box that was converted to a fort, and the rubbery, sweet smell of finger paints. It rains a lot, and I love to sit at the window to watch the lightning flash across the sky. My little brother is born, and he’s too small for me to do anything with him. I want him to hurry up and get big so we can play together. Some fire ants take up residence in my sandbox, and my mother puts me in the deep kitchen sink, covering what feels like a hundred bites with baking soda. There’s a pool in our apartment complex, but I don’t remember ever going into it.

In 1978, we move back to California from Texas, and into the house I will grow up in. My brother is 2, I am 6, and my little sister is born a few weeks before we move in. Before we can spend our first night in the house, there’s a flood that fills our house with several feet of mud and debris. Over the years, I see the faded pictures and 8mm films of my parents and their friends cleaning it up, and it isn’t until I’m almost 20 that I ever pause wonder what it must have felt like to have two kids and a newborn while cleaning several feet of mud out of the house you’ve just bought.

Every summer in that house is magical in my memory. My brother, my sister, and I make slip-n-slides out of plastic tarps on the front lawn. We do jumps and perform bike shows on the street. We play hide and seek into and beyond the warm dusk of numerous Julys and Augusts. We get a pool in the early 80s, and spend all day in it, every day. We get ear infections. We build floating forts out of rafts. We make waves with the rafts and attempt to ride them with our Boogie Boards. We dive for pennies, rocks, toys, anything that will sink. We have massive amphibious battles with Star Wars and GI Joe figures. When it’s time to get out of the pool, we swim all the way to the deep end, then invent a reason we have to get out in the shallow end. Our parents know what we’re doing, and we know they know, but we somehow get away with it, every time.

On Saturday mornings, my brother and I watch cartoons and wrestling, then we go outside and play until the sun goes down, longer if we can. We sneak mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches from the huge top-loading freezer in the garage and never get caught.

We don’t have air conditioning in the house in Sunland, not really. We have a swamp cooler that works for about 8 cubic feet in the hallway. When it’s too hot to play, and we can’t swim for some reason, we sit in front of the television and watch Star Wars on VHS until we wear the tape out. We play Atari until the mid-80s, and then Nintendo. We build forts and have campouts in them.

The ice cream man is actually a lady. She sells strawberry shortcake bars and fun dip. She’s the nicest person in the world.

We go to our Great Aunt Val’s house in Northridge every weekend, and swim in her pool, which has a slide and a diving board. Our cousin Jack’s absentee father buys him a Nintendo arcade machine, and he swaps out different chips so we can play Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye for free. We watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and fall asleep in front of the television. When she gets MTV, I spend all day watching it, hoping to see the video for Thriller. It never airs, but I see a lot of U2.

In 1987, we move to La Crescenta, into the house where my brother and sister will grow up, and I will come of age. I’m 14. Jeremy is 10, Amy is 8. It’s a better house in a better neighborhood. The schools are better, the neighbors sell 100% less drugs. But it’s on a hill, and there isn’t anywhere for us to ride bikes. There’s no swimming pool; a small above-ground spa will have to suffice. We adjust more quickly than we expect, and grow to love that house. My friend Ryan and I spend long hours sitting in that spa, listening to Van Halen on a portable cassette player, talking about the girls we don’t ever have the courage to talk to. In 1988 we get a pool, and it’s magnificent. It has a waterfall into and out of the spa, is dark on the bottom, and feels like a lagoon. We have massive pool parties almost daily for the next four summers. I kiss a couple of girls on some warm summer nights in the jacuzzi. I play boardgames at the dining room table, and computer games on my Macintosh in my bedroom. I get my first modem and my own phone line. Ryan and I try to hook it up while dripping wet from the pool, using a butter knife as a screwdriver. Somehow, we succeed with minimal shocks.

My brother and I play all the way through Legend of Zelda and Metroid on the NES in his bedroom, sometimes we stay up all night to finish the games. We're inseparable. Ryan and I play hours of Blades of Steel and Excitebike.

I become a teenager, and drift away from my younger siblings. I don’t feel sad about that until this exact instant, and I miss them.

I didn’t know why these things have been on my mind, or why I needed to write them down, until just now.

41 thoughts on “Summer memories never fade away”

  1. Not gonna lie. The U2 thing made me happy. I am such a dork.
    Also: my summers were basically all the same as yours minus having swimming pools anywhere near our houses. I hope my kids grow up having awesome summer memories.

  2. Thank you for writing them. I think it’s important to record memories while you can still remember them so you can go back years later. I still regret not having written down any of the wartime (WWII) memories my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother used to tell.

  3. I just have to say that having been to w00tstock twice, and having a couple of your audiobooks, I really love that I can read posts like this one and “hear” them in your voice… My summers were a lot like yours, but with less pools and more hills/dirt/fields/trees and a large pond way out behind our neighborhood.

  4. Sounds pretty nice. We had similar summers in Upstate NY. Play in the pool all day, play with the neighborhood kids until the lights start coming on, and play a bunch of video games on NES. It’s not at all a bad way to spend a childhood.

  5. In reference to the last couple lines, I think you know what to do, but I’ll say it anyway; Call your siblings. Host a killer BBQ. Serve them your awesome beer. Play games.
    While you’re at it, call Sean Astin and invite him too, (if you still have that piece of note paper in that jacket).
    Ironic you write about your summers as a kid. Each of those memories struck home for me as well – making excuses to stay in the pool, mint chocolate chip ice cream and the preponderance of the ubiquitous ‘fort’, no matter where it was. Being in a structure, however small, was a secure place…especially if you had home made cookies from Mom.
    It’s hot here too. I was driving to the gym to buy my membership, thought of how hot it was outside and remain thankful that I live near a body of water. The breeze off the San Pablo Bay is enough to cool the air around our house as we are up on a hill, (where it’s a ‘different’ strata of air), but somehow the sun bakes the concrete roof tiles and it slowly translates into the house throughout the day.
    I though of how hot it might be down where you live and at that very moment, (as I am about to fill out the forms for the two memberships I’m finally purchasing rather than buying some other toy for the band), the power goes out and the A/C units wind down. The gym is cast into an awkward silence, which is augmented by the sharp clank of the man doing free weights, “…thirty-seven…thirty-eight”.
    Certainly, my house isn’t affected; I live in the neighboring city. I climb into my car with my forms and drive through the neighborhood to avoid the signals, which are, by now no doubt, controlled by whomever drives through them and in Benicia, it’s a wave fest. By that I mean that people are so nice they just wave each other through the intersection causing each car to lurch forward and stop three times until someone finally takes the initiative and drives through…all with a smile. Yeah, places like this do exist and the resemblance to Stepford is haunting.
    Dusk is falling as slowly as the temperature here in Vallejo, but no matter what the temperature, your memories sparked a warm place in my childhood.
    Thanks =8^)-

  6. I’m glad you wrote this. It reminds me of my summers when I was growing up. Everything is pretty much the same except for MTV and Atari. We had a Sega Genesis which at the time, I thought was the greatest thing to exist on the planet, ever. That was until N64 came out and that was the greatest thin to exist ever. It was also different because I didn’t spend the summers of my youth at my house. I spent them at my babysitter’s house. She had an above ground pool and I just remember leaving everyday from her house with my entire body wrinkled because I stayed in the water so long. (I also remember that I was the smartest out of all my friends and that everyone should have listened to me.)
    I always loved summer because my birthday is in August. I remember having the best parties at my house and at my babysitters house. I can’t ever remember a time when I was growing up that it was ever a rainy day on my birthday.
    I also remember how simple everything seemed, and it was simple. Now as I sit here in my room, the room I have had since I was four, I can’t remember when everything changed. When everything became complicated. I really wish I understood and believed the adults when they said that being a grown up is harder than being a kid, I wish I hadn’t taken so many things like my youth for granted. I look back now and I also cannot remember why I was so eager to grow up so fast. At 23, I feel more like a child than I ever did as a child, because now I understand. Those moments we all have as adults where we can forget for awhile and be 10 again.
    The only thing I am completely sure of in this life is that nostalgia is sometimes the only time we ever truly see how different things are than they were when we were all kids. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that I am still the smartest out of all my friends. ;-)

  7. This is quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I have read in a long time. I was a child of the 80s and my young summers were filled with our small plastic paddeling pool, a wobbly and squeaky backyard swing set and most importantly, spending every week day with my grandma, who was the best babysitter my little brother and I could have had while growing up. My dad was a big fan of roadtrips and I wish I appreciated more our epic car ride from NY to CA when I was 14.
    Even as I grew older, summers were still special. During college, summers spent at home were a time to catch up with friends I had known for years but now only. Road trips were then shared with these friends and going to concerts of newly discovered bands. I would give anything to have a summer holiday like those now. Thank you,Wil, for sharing your memories and I hope you don’t mind me sharing some of mine.

  8. Beautiful, thank you. You remind me time goes by too quickly for us mere mortals. I can’t help remembering things that will never be again and feel sad I didn’t do more to savor those moments. All I can do is do better going forward.

  9. What a nice essay. Your bit about the house flooding the night you moved in resonated with me. When I was 2, my family moved to a newly-built house in the suburbs, on a road that wasn’t even paved yet. It was about right before Christmas. My siblings were 7 and 11. There had been a blizzard that weekend. Even better, the basement flooded just a few weeks after we moved in. My dad’s college diploma and my Raggedy Andy doll were among the casualties.
    So I can totally sympathize with realizing, as an adult now, how much that must have sucked for my parents.

  10. Sigh. The power is back on in my house after 2 hours – I experienced that summer evening and then read you. I might cry some happy tears. More, please.

  11. Hi Wil,
    I remember that flood.
    I remember mud seeping into my room at the place where the wall met the carpet.
    I also remember going out the backdoor wearing my rubber rain boots and then getting stuck there and my dad lifting me out but my boots remaining behind.
    We didn’t have a pool but we visited my “cousins” in Burbank who had a pool and Atari!
    Back in our neck of the woods I do remember the lazy sound of airplanes flying far overhead, a sound I always associate with summer now.

  12. I remember when you told the story about the kid who caused everyone at the pie eating contest to throw up, by throwing up… And when a junk yard dog nearly bit your balls off… Oh, how about the time you threatened Keifer Sutherland, that cheep dime store hood, with a gun! Good times, good times… Although, I always thought you’d grow up to look more like Richard Dreyfuss… Weird.

  13. My grandmother died today. In an unknown number of hours I will be in the middle of nowhere Tennessee surrounded by family- some I love, some I wish didn’t posess the ability to vote. Or breed.
    She wasn’t a particularly kind woman. I don’t mourn for her yet. I do mourn for my version of your childhood memories. Playing in the creek, the smell of my grandmothers house. The comfort of family, waiting up until you arrived after your long drive from Michigan. The sheer beauty of the area and the strong nostalgia I have for those childhood visits. I’m sad that I may never return. I’m sad I won’t get to share this place with my daughter. It’s another world I loved, in a way… That won’t exist anymore.

  14. I was born almost exactly a year later than you, so many of these memory references (chocolate chip mint ice cream, the games …) opened up a lot of memories for me, too. I lived two blocks from the city’s largest outdoor swimming pool – right at the beach – and I pretty much lived in it, diving for pennies, rocks, and anything else that would sink. *smile*

  15. I also grew up in La Crescenta…I’m 10 years older than you, but your memories feel a lot like mine. Thanks for reminding me how beautiful it was to grow up in the suburbs in the days when kids could play outside and explore the world until after dark with little fear.

  16. Thanks for this, a beautiful piece of writing. Brought a wave of summer heat past to me, feeling a little chilly down here in Australian winter. Despite being half a world away I have many similar memories of long long summers. I hope my children will also have this.
    PS going OT for a second, just showed my 2.5 year old your Mars Curiosity NASA info clip, his summary? “spaceship blastoffs into space- whoosh! -lands on mars, then roll, roll, roll robot!” he was very impressed and so was I with your and NASAs science communication. If you can get it through to a 2.5 year old you have done an awesome job!:)

  17. I can understand that last feeling quite a bit seeing as how my sister moved all the way to New Zealand almost a decade ago. It’s a good thing that she’s here now for my wedding. It’s a good way for us to meet each other again and get that much closer.
    As someone who encourages us to get excited and make something, what’s stoping you from getting excited and do something to get closer to your siblings?

  18. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. I grew up in NoCal, but this could be a desciption of my own childhood. With one notable exeption. In 1988, I was the 11 year old kid who desperatly wanted to be the kid driving the Enterprise.

  19. Even living on Oregon, we had a pool, and that is just about an exact replica of my youth. Even down to the damn fire ants. I had so many on me, they crawled back on me in the bathtub so my parents had to take me back outside and hit me with the hose. Zelda marathons. Classic. Good stream of thought, Mr. Wheaton.

  20. Thank you Wil. I read your words, but I saw my childhood.
    I’m an odd mixture of content and sad now. I miss the wonderful, inexplicable, astounding place the world used to be when I was young.
    But this perspective wouldn’t be possible without the intervening years of maturity, so I can’t say I’d want to go back to those days, I’d lose the very thing my emotions are trying to recapture.
    Anyways, way too deep for Friday afternoon, so I’ll just say again: Thank you.

  21. Oh, Wil – that takes me way back (50 years) to the cool dark interior of the house in summer, my mom coming home from a trip to the grocery store so she can keep 5 kids fed, popsicles, trips to the pool, firefly watching off the front porch (Midwest summers), summer reading club and walks to the library to get re-supplied with science fiction . . .
    thank you for this post. I love your writing.

  22. You and Scalzi both remind me of the bubble of wonderful growing up in SoCal is. I sometimes forget how lucky we were. . Substitute Riverside for LA county and motorcycle for swimming pool and this is my story too.
    Thank you

  23. How ironic… feeling nostalgic, (about to turn 40 I guess), popped Stand By Me in the DVD player… decided to check out what Wil & company are up to, and stumbled upon this wonderful post loaded with references to items and events that could just as easily have come from my own childhood (my siblings are about the same age differences, and I guess I’m kind of feeling the same way — maybe it’s an eldest child/midlife thing, huh?). The trifecta of coincidences: Richard Dreyfuss and Steven King were both about to turn 40 when Stand By Me was released.
    Wil, time to reconnect with Jeremy and Amy, bro. I need to do the same thing.

  24. Swimming from dawn to dusk and MTV. Man those were good days.
    My new apartment doesn’t have a pool and i’m not sure what to do in the summer.

  25. You made me think of my youth. We moved to Florida from London when I was eight. We though it was hot in March! Then we melted our way through our first August! (Luckily we’re getting daily thunderstorms now to cool it down a little.) The thing I remember most about growing up in a small town was that by the time I was twelve I was allowed to ride my bike anywhere I wanted to go: the mall, movies, etc. And that’s what I remember the most, riding my bike, it was my freedom. We didn’t own a house, so no pool. On Saturdays I would watch Creature Feature on Channel 44 from 2pm to 6pm and be lost in two science fiction movies from the golden age of B-movies, but I also got to see some classics. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I was always that odd kid from England, I guess I still am. Most people will agree that those years when you are just old enough to go and do stuff by yourself are the best in your life. You have all the rewards without a lot or any responsibility. Sure you may have to mow the yard every couple of weeks and take out the garbage, do the dishes, clean your room, but these tasks don’t seem like much when compared with riding your bike to see STAR WARS or to the beach to spend a day body surfing. It truly is the best time of your life!

  26. Thank you Will this is the type of writing that got me addicted to your blog. My earliest memory is going to Disney World when I was five or six and being to scared to ride the submarine ride and then having my ice cream at least to me at the time magically turn into a brownie while I was using the restroom (or potty at the time). As an adult I know more than likely either my mom dropped it or it melted and she ordered a brownie for me to prevent 5/6 year old melt down because we just got our food right before I had to go and it took a while.

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