It is possible that I had something of an idyllic childhood. I grew up mostly in the 80’s, a full fledged suburban kid – not too spoiled or privileged, but not missing out on anything that really mattered. Most importantly, I had a “whole” family with a stay-at-home mom and a responsible dad. And on top of that, I was blessed with a bunch of great friends who all had pretty good families themselves. I had parents who cared for me deeply, as well as my friend’s moms and dads who were welcoming and nurturing in their own way. When summers came around I had more things to do and places to go than I could fit into the long days. We had a swimming pool in our back yard which brought a wide variety of kids to our house. And when the days were not fit for swimming, I had a stock metallic-blue ten-speed bike in the garage that would take me elsewhere. When I think about it now, I peddled that thing way farther than it was meant to go – four towns over sometimes, down busy highways and desolate backroads, on short-cuts through the woods, and zig-zagging along many a maze of suburban sprawl. I had no helmet or cell phone or GPS – just a trusting mom, a few dollars in my pocket, and a sunset curfew. I can’t imagine letting my kids wander around the way I did, and I don’t think I or my parents were just naive back then. The world is almost certainly less innocent than it was thirty years ago, and I’m thankful I experienced one of those rare slices of societal bliss.
Summers were an adventure for me. My friends and I would exhaust entire days at the pool or the lake. We would stage war games in the woods. We’d mess around hazardously with fireworks, and when those could not be legally obtained, home-made pyrotechnics instead. I went on many a Boy Scout trip and joined in character-building community service projects. When my buddies and I weren’t camping out someplace real, we’d just pitch a tent in the back yard so close to the house that his mom could yell out the window for us to “go to sleep already because it’s midnight!” We would frequent the theater and loiter at the video arcade. We made model airplanes and daydreamed about real ones through the chain-link fence at the airport. Sometimes we’d make our own movies with a shoulder-mounted VHS camcorder – movies that featured model airplanes and pyrotechnics, or characters from the New Jersey Mafia. It was the dawn of home computers and we taught ourselves how to write simple programs, and later, how to battle the communists in much cooler video games than we could create. We unflinchingly explored abandoned buildings and construction sites, only rarely questioning if this was safe. We talked about starting a band, or what we would do if we found a million bucks hidden in the woods. We buried a time capsule somewhere I can’t remember. We flirted with the idea of flirting with a pretty girl from our class but never ever found the courage. No matter what however, we were always happily captive to our imaginations, eternally optimistic, and not so mischievous to warrant a police record but not taking anything too seriously either. This was a great way to grow up and sometimes I miss the kid I was.
I took Renee out to a movie the other night – Steven Spielberg’s “Super 8”, which has been heralded as the “best summer movie of the year – of many years.” Even so, I still had to sell it to Renee. She watched the trailer before we left for our date and raised a inquisitive eyebrow my direction. The rating cautioned of “intense sequences of sci-fi action” which in fact was a huge selling point to me and something of the opposite to Renee. But I grabbed her hand and coaxed her out the door anyway. I told her that this was what summer movies were supposed to be about, and besides it was an IMAX showing which promised to be awesome regardless of the plot. But the plot was pretty great too. It’s possible I loved it so much because it reminded me of my childhood – in a thematic sort of way, not factually. The movie is set in the 70’s, in a small town in Ohio. It’s about some kids trying to make a movie over summer vacation with their dad’s Super 8 camera. But it’s really about all those timeless themes good movies are made of… loss and redemption, love, friendship, family, adventure, self-sacrifice, and of course, aliens.
I guess my childhood was rich with these things – save for the aliens. I must admit that I was one of those young boys who secretly dreamed some intelligent and kid-friendly life form would land in my hometown. Aside from that one small disappointment though, growing up was like one long summer movie. I had adventures of mildly epic proportions, and I had some very genuine friends. I never got the girl however, not until much later at least. And there she was next to me now, feet propped up on the row in front of her as the credits rolled, smiling not so much at the movie we just watched but at her quirky husband who was, for a couple of hours, twelve again.