As a kid, I lived for June. Not only was June my birthday, it was also parole month. The bars of the school swung open and 90-plus days of Huckleberry Finn idleness stretched endlessly before me.
This was, of course, back in the day when there was no such thing as “off track” or year-round school. It was probably a law then that tedium could last only nine months — with extended breaks for the holidays.
The summer between fifth and sixth grades lives in my memory as the perfect example of freedom. My parents were working. They hired an elderly woman to watch us during the day.
Sometime during the last week of school, the Old Man introduced us to our new baby sitter/day care provider. He gave Mrs. D a brief rundown on each of us. When he got to me, he didn’t spare her any of the details.
“And this is Bobby,” he said, eyes glowing. “Him you can hit. You can tie him up, lock him in the shed and even call the police on him.”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. D said. “Certainly not any of that.”
I had no idea what she meant. Everything the Old Man said was fair. Hell, it made sense even to me. But it was this last part of his advice that I feel went a bit too far:
“Hide your money, plug your ears when necessary, and — this is the important part — under no circumstances believe anything he says.”
Mrs. D was kind, forgiving, soft-spoken and defenseless. One look at her, and I knew I was going to have the best summer vacation ever. I was utterly incapable of not taking advantage of someone this kind.
The next day, I asked Mrs. D for permission to go to a nearby church to help with the voluntary cleaning. I was even holding a broom when I asked. She said I was sweet and let me leave.
Two hours later, I was dragged home by a neighboring farmer and presented to Mrs. D as a vandal, who, along with “two other little bast---- [Leon and Duncan],” had painted the butts of several cows a fluorescent orange. There was no denying it. My arms were orange.
“Bobby, I’m very disappointed. I hope this was after you cleaned the church. Now, go wash your hands.”
That was it? “I’m very disappointed?” Clearly, the woman was a fool. How was it that she was still alive at her age?
Get this: A few days later, I convinced her to drive me to a sporting goods store and buy for me — with the birthday money I got from Mom — a box of 12-gauge shotgun shells.
Neither Duncan, Leon nor I had a shotgun, but we did have a length of pipe, Scotch tape, BBs and a hammer. Any kid our age who didn’t know how to make a shotgun with those items was someone we believed should still be in first grade.
I think blowing a leg off the swing set in the backyard was the last straw for Mrs. D. Even then, she didn’t tell on me. She just took away the remaining shotgun shells.
It took me years to figure out just how smart Mrs. D was. The following week, her high school granddaughter and several of her friends began practicing their cheerleading routines in our yard every afternoon.
I don’t remember doing much the rest of that summer. I spent most of it just hanging around the house and staring out the windows. Sounds boring, I know. But more than half a century later, I still have this vague sense that it was the best summer. Ever.