Childhood’s Last Summer - Cora M. Liderbach

The long and brilliant days of August 1960 are dwindling as a girl swings round and round a swaying metal pole that props up the striped awning above her flagstone patio in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


She’s 11 years old and feeling wistful. Soon, the soft nights will vanish along with the lightning bugs she races to trap in glass jars. Games on front lawns that send a dozen kids madly sprinting from the ball to the count of three will end. The streetlights will no longer glow above their laughing bodies in a version of dodgeball her Italian neighbors dub “meatball.”


No more will freeze tag monopolize their yards as they stand like statues while someone flies around frantically to tag the next It. Cries of, No-o-o, don’t send me, as an opponent mallets a croquet ball far from the wicket, will fade. The crickets and cicadas providing the soundtrack to their summers will quest for shelter.


The coming fall promises some excitement: new clothes, supplies, teachers, classmates. In fifth grade, the kindly older teacher with glasses and brown, frizzy hair liked to call on her. In her class picture she radiates a confidence missing from photos in other grades — especially first, when a nun spanked her for her shy reluctance to read out loud.


But sixth grade will not be a stellar year for her. Her new classmates will mature as she, in an undershirt, despairs of ever reaching womanhood. A looming need for glasses will further subtract from her appeal: Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses, her grandmother will joke.


And as autumn’s chill turns her neighborhood inward, some homes will offer warmth and refuge, while others like hers – though increasingly crowded with siblings – will not.


Long after adolescence comes and goes – after she marries, has children and forges a career as a writer -- she’ll look back on this summer as the sweetest of her childhood.


But for now she simply twirls round the creaky pole in the gentling breeze, sensing the end of her freedom to wander the streets and spend parent-free days at the pool … yearning for the cicadas to sing, the fireflies to wink, the out-of-breath games of tag at twilight to last forever.


Cora M. Liderbach, a former professional writer, is happily exploring poetry and creative writing in retirement. Her poetry was featured in a staged reading for the 2020 Cleveland Humanities Festival, won a Third Prize in the 2020 Dancing Poetry Festival in California, and was published on Literary Cleveland's website.

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