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The Last, Glorious Days of A Feral Summer

IMG_7365I look at her on the dock, her legs dangling into the lake water.

There’s an enormous, purple bruise on one shin. It has a yellow eye in the center, brooding and pulsing. There’s a scratch on her calf, as if something sharp and metal decided to bite her. And the rest of the leg is covered in bug bites and tiny bruises, a Dalmation woundscape crawling up to her knees.

Her other leg is worse.

On that one, the bruises and scratches and bites look about the same, but her toe is flayed by a stumble. I think the nail might come off.

I look at her legs and then look at her face and am struck by the dichotomy. With that much suffering, I’d be on a couch somewhere, gulping ibuprofen. But her smile is enormous, as big as the summer sun bobbing over the lake.

Summer is coming to a close for us, now that we’ve left the lake behind. It’s our annual trip to see relatives in Northern Michigan. Skiing, tubing, pickup baseball games, ice cream cones, soccer, bocce, hide and seek, tag, rocket launching, fireworks, sailing, s’mores, running, running, running. I’ll be reading in a chair in the backyard and listening to the bugs or birds and suddenly rising above the drone is a laugh so happy it fills my soul.

The kids are somewhere, doing something, and loving every minute of it.

My wife and I call her the feral lake child and can’t remember the last time anyone’s combed her hair. From the look of it, never.

This is what I remember about childhood summers — the independence and made up games and crazy fun with cousins and friends. Part of me wants to reel her in, comb her hair, maybe offer Band Aids or at least new underwear. I wonder for a moment if our relatives thought we had just given up, abdicating our responsibilities for a good book, a cold drink, and a lounge chair on the deck. Any hostilities or stalemates are handled with a raised eyebrow or, perhaps, a surprised “Oh” before our noses dive back into the books. And sure enough, two seconds later, the kids have worked it out and have moved on.

When I was 7, my daughter’s age, I wore a blue Speedo swimsuit instead of underwear — just in case I happened upon a pool or a creek. Us kids, we roamed the neighborhoods in packs and got up to no good and had lunch at whoever’s house we happened to be closest to when we got hungry.

My daughter’s school starts next week and I think there will be time enough for hair combing and new clothes, for baths and schedules and car pools and sports and the list seems endless.

So for now, I dip into a book and watch over the top of the pages as she runs and giggles and thumps into things, another purple notch on her legs, and gets back up, smiling, looking for more trouble in the last, glorious days of summer.

— Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! and is the author of Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects.

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