June. Best month of the year. Countdown to the last day of school. When, once upon a 1960-time, heat bounced off an asphalt playground and the teacher let the window monitor pull the casings all the way down with the window-pull. Sweat-soaked dresses stuck to the connected desk-chairs that were installed in 1916, or thereabouts. A few of us got lucky and collected textbooks to take to basement storage where a cool breeze blew stagnant air that smelled old, like the books we piled on shelves.
The clock hit two and we knew it was only a matter of time. Report cards were handed out, the coat closet was emptied of stray mittens, the teacher gave assurance we had been her best class ever, and we lined up for the last time as fourth graders. It was time for summer.
Buses roared off, and we walkers skipped down the hill to change into play clothes and begin the summer routine.
Sidewalks filled with chalk hop-scotch charts. We alternated roller skating with bicycle riding. Our scabbed knees remained scabbed for the summer. Thump, thump, thump went the pink balls against the stoop. Thwack, thwack, thwack went the double-Dutch jump ropes against the sidewalk.
We’d pack picnics to take to the creek where we’d hop forbidden stones and build waterfalls over fallen branches.
Thunderstorms were spent on a porch, with dares to run to the fence and back while thunder rumbled.
Summer meant sweet watermelon dripping and the Good Humor truck’s bell calling. And always the pop-pop-pop of soda pop.
Sixty years later my cell phone rings and it’s my daughter from Richmond, Va., telling me about my grandsons’ last days of school. For one, a sixth-grade awards ceremony; for the other, the start of fall football practice. Huh? Now that’s a unique way to end the first year of high school.
We reminisced about her own end-of-school days while I glanced at the television with the sound off and ticker-tape running across the bottom of the screen.
Numb, I read the words out loud. “School shooting, Richmond Virginia, high school graduation.”
“Yes,” said my daughter in a hushed voice. “It is nearby. Two dead, five wounded.”
We didn’t need to talk anymore. Words no longer worked.
I hung up, turned on the sound and listened to a student describe the pop-pop-pop he heard as he came out of that Richmond graduation ceremony.
I closed my eyes and remembered the sweet drip of watermelon, the Good Humor truck’s bell, and the pop-pop-pop of soda pop. Once upon a time.
Jane N. Bailey lives in Litchfield