Suburbs, Summer 1972 

Patti See

My mother starts each day with a cigarette from her Tupperware pouch and the radio tuned to the polka station, where fm means fine music, blaring from the kitchen window sill. Through our back yard, sun gleams off of Mr. Swan's lifetime collection of Air Streamers, where thirty cats, some neighbors say, roam free. Silver crosses the yards, a line of mirrors in desert sun, as Davey and I squint over oatmeal and syrup toast. Next door on Lipinski's weeping willow the Bovey boys in their ripped Toughskins, the summer before reform school, swing across fence tops Tarzan style even before breakfast. Our open curtains signal Fatty Lipinski to part the lilac hedge and walk around the shaded spot we all avoided from the summer Pugsley coughed up worms. He never knocks, just presses his face--streaked with this morning's jelly toast or last night's gravy --to our screen door. He always has a Tonka truck in one hand and a Skippy pail of army men in the other, but Davey still plays with him even though it's the summer before junior high. Next summer he'll be Dave and sulk around the basement listening to KISS. 

She doesn't say so, but my mother hopes this is the last summer that Fatty's old lady spends most days half in the bag, lying on the chaise lounge, her spot, the only piece of living room furniture not covered in plastic, and sipping coffee mugs of spiked orange juice. By nine she has screamed her litany of God damn you's until all seven of her children scattered. She'll be back in bed by noon claiming migraines, up by suppertime with wet kisses for all the children, even the neighbor's. My father wears his again face, home on his lunch break, each time he passes half of the Lipinski kids eating Wonder bread and bologna sandwiches on his picnic table. I hear my mother say to him once in the kitchen, cutting more sandwiches into triangles, "Don't hold your breath." 

It is the first summer that I ride the three blocks alone to Lindy's for Lucky Strikes with the worn note for Mr. Linden tucked in my sock beside two quarters fresh from my mother's gambling purse. I steer my banana-seat bike around pavement cracks as Old Maid cards click time clothes-pinned to spokes gathering enough kids to divvy teams for kickball where Harding and Holme Streets form a T. The sewer grates become bases, that ragged car mat is always home plate, fouls are ticks and everyone calls do-overs. Skynard blasts from Joey's blue ox blue Gran Torino as he hoses down his baby in our driveway, wondering who'll wash her when he leaves for boot camp. He still lets us shoot arrows at him till he sprays us, or he takes a turn pitching, letting us grunt "belly itcher" at him for every bumpy one. 

On hot days, Geralynn, exotic in her two-piece, lays-out topless on the garage roof, baby oil puddled in her belly button, sneaking Kools if I play lookout, which I always, always do. More than anything I want to look like her, or better, be her, the summer before she got her first job as a carhop at the Falls Drive-In and called me a pest. I don't know yet that it's the last summer she will fit in the pool with me, her bony limbs cracking the plastic. So I look at Shelley Bovey, too dirty to dip into the calm waters of our fish-bottomed pool, even with the foot-wash bucket, as she sits on her curb and watches from across the street. And that's all I do that summer, just look back. 

PATTI SEE has work appearing in The Southwest Review, The Wisconsin Academy Review, The Wisconsin English Journal, Women's Studies Quarterly, Savoy, and other magazines and anthologies. She teaches developmental education courses and supervises tutoring programs at the University of WI-Eau Claire.

Email Patti See

Go to next essay in this issue