Memories of Summers Past
by Audrey Y. Scharmen
She was 10. Her lean little frame tanned from summer, her straight dark hair sun-streaked and newly bobbed. She wore a starched cotton dress that was too long and new shoes from the secondhand store. The shoes were molded in the shape of the previous owners feet alas, very unlike her own. But Mama assured her she would grow into them eventually.
She was as tall and gangly now as the sunflowers beside the dusty path to school, and the realization left her feeling melancholy, blue as the giant morning glories that clung to the flower stalks. She was dreading the first day of school and The Essay: The inevitable annual account of What I Did Last Summer.
She had never been more than 40 miles from home. Her aunt, who lived in nearby Kansas City, invited her each summer for a brief visit, and it was great. Auntie lived in a fine house on Cherry Street. One could see the glow of the city from there. Mama said she was well to do. Her house had a screened sleeping porch on the second floor, kind of like sleeping outside, but without the discomfort of pesky insects. That was her room for the duration of the visit, and she also got to drink all the Pepsi she wanted.
Auntie took her to Loewes State Theater downtown, the most elegant place she had ever been: all gilt trim and red velvet draperies. They sat in the balcony in plush loges and watched a movie. On the drive home, through a rough part of town, she saw old men sleeping on the sidewalks. Auntie told her they were winos and please not to stare.
Thus she had written about it last autumn. Her jaded classmates liked the part about the winos, but they yawned and snickered through the rest. Their dads worked for the railroad and had free family passes for vacations. They traveled all the way to Colorado and California in fancy Pullman cars. Some even had been to the Chicago Stockyards. How could she compete with that, forheavensake?
She complained angrily to Mama and demanded to know what the heck was Pikes Peak where all those kids claimed to have been. Mama said to pay them no mind. Anyway, she added slyly, there is no such place.
This year Auntie had been ill and there had been no trip to the city. She would just have to write about the family reunion she had attended in a pretty country churchyard nearby where there were rambling roses everywhere and a creek for wading. Her cousins had come all the way from Tonganoxie and Lyndon, and the aunts made wonderful Concord grape pies and special fried chicken, from scratch.
She sensed a good tale there. She had watched often the cruel ritual of preparing the hens for cooking the wringing of necks and scalding of feathers and she always ran away before it was finished. But it was impressive, and she would embellish a bit. (That was one of the new words she had discovered recently.)
So she assembled a plot in her mind as she strolled on through the blue morning that suddenly glowed rose. She always was happiest when composing.
The story was a smash hit. Those snotty kids were mesmerized by a gruesome description of decapitated chickens and voodoo rites and a near drowning in the creek. Mama was angry when she read it, but teacher gave it an A-plus.
Life passes quickly after one turns 10. And so the little girl grew up and married a traveling man and they lived in many places but never near Pikes Peak. Then suddenly last summer, a very old woman by then, she suggested they stop by there on a trip West.
It was okay, but really no big deal. She and the white-knuckled driver and their dog had dizzy spells at the summit, and it was cold and slushy and very crowded.
She wished she could have seen it when she was 10.