I was 8 years old the summer of 1970, and that was the summer I didn’t go to camp.
We lived in a sweet little house that my father spent hours painting and fixing, though his handyman skills were severely lacking. His younger brother, a hippie with a wild afro, who lived in our attic and was as mysterious and fascinating to me as Bobby Sherman, built a screened-in porch in our backyard with some of his equally hairy friends.
I’m sure they were stoned throughout the process, and they played rock and roll on their transistor radio, which made my next-door neighbor, a wonderfully fat and brilliant girl named Felice, who babysat for us, swoon with teenage passion.
I stayed home that summer because money was tight. My mother took a part-time job that turned into full-time, and Felice would come over each weekday morning to babysit my 6-year-old brother and me. We’d watch Monty Hall on “Let’s Make a Deal” and then walk over to the community pool, where we’d eat M&Ms and drink Cokes and swim for hours while Felice watched us from a lounge chair in the shade, trying to stay cool in the New York humidity.
There was a high diving board and a low diving board at the pool, but I only jumped off the low one, unless my father was with us, and then I’d jump off the high dive, terrified and thrilled and proud. My father would dunk under the water to cool off and then emerge, smiling and swooping his comb-over in place, nearly bald but still young.Summer, Long Island, 1970. A summer so sweet and lovely I will never forget it.Click To Tweet
When the porch and patio was completed that August, my parents had a party. Felice and my brother and I sat in the front yard, pulling up blades of grass and tearing them into pieces. We watched as the guests arrived, feeling shy and curious. They seemed so old to me, but they were mostly in their early 30s, like my folks. All the men wore white loafers without socks, and all the women wore mini dresses. Everyone was very tan.
From the house we heard songs like “Ball of Confusion” and “Band of Gold” and “Make Me Smile.” My father loved to entertain and he loved to drink, and my mother was beautiful and proud of our house. All of their friends said a nice “hello” and “how are you” to us as they walked up our driveway to the house, which was white with yellow shutters and flowers in the flower box on the front porch. Later in the evening, my grandparents came to take us to stay the night at their house, just a few blocks away. Even though I didn’t go to the party, it was a wonderful night.
Felice was 15 that summer, and my best friend. The girl across the street, Tina, would come with us to the pool, and she was my other best friend. She was 9. It may sound funny to say that my babysitter was my best friend, but she was more fun than any of my friends who were my age, and she loved me. She loved all of us. My mother, my brother, my father—my uncle with the ‘fro, who at 21, was just old enough to be wildly sexy to her.
Not long after that summer, we would sell that house and move to an apartment because things weren’t going so well for my father. When we moved away from Felice, the magic disappeared and we went our separate ways. Eventually we lost touch when she graduated from high school and went to college.
I read “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?” 10 times the year I was 11 years old, and my childhood, like the changing of seasons, naturally drifted into adolescence. I had a new babysitter named Eleanor who was very nice, but eventually I didn’t need a babysitter. I watched “The Mike Douglas Show” and Gene Rayburn on “Match Game” after school, but rarely saw “Let’s Make a Deal,” since it was on in the morning. My subsequent summers were spent at overnight camp.
The white house with the yellow shutters still had the same wallpaper in my bedroom when I saw it again 40 years later. It makes me happy to think that those walls hold all of the moments of those days of ours for safekeeping.
Previously published on Purple Clover