Summer in the South for a 16 year-old consists of parents who bother him more than the heat, and days filled with friends, food and future adventures waiting just around the corner.
Too old to stay home with his mama, but not yet old enough to be set totally free, it’s a summer for finding a real job in the real world and discovering how very real part-time pay and full time taxes are.
A new driver’s license in his wallet gives him the itch to explore beyond the regular boundaries of the city limit signs, but the new reality of having to pay for gas keeps him close to home. The guys proudly bring their cars over for a wash, wax and polish session and when his mom brings out a pitcher of lemonade, he pretends to spray her with the hose. She says she’s going to yank a knot in his tail and all they all have a good laugh. The old truck will get dirty again when the boys drive to the river to cool off and swing on the rope that was there when their Dads were teenagers about a hundred years before.
Rolling out of bed before the humidity becomes unbearable, he cuts the grass, then goes to his Sunday school teacher’s house and joins other kids from his youth group to paint, rake and wash, knowing the only pay will be a plate of homemade cookies. They’re fine with this arrangement because just being with friends is the best part of the day, and once again, the lesson of “doing unto others” grows even stronger.
For paying jobs, they stock shelves at the market, wash dishes at the downtown cafe’ and work as the dreaded cage cleaner for the local vet. Having known them since they were babies, their bosses tell their parents what fine men they’ll be someday, but the boys wonder why no one can see the men they already are.
After work, they meet for milkshakes and talk about how someday they’ll have exciting jobs they love, making more money than they can spend. That’s when one says he’ll get out of this small town and live in a big city in a modern loft with glass tables, no dumb antiques to dust and no yard to mow. The others slurp their shakes and agree this is a great idea.
Little do they know at that very moment, there are 16 year-olds in a far away city, discussing what it would be like to sit in a field untouched by glaring lights and gaze through the shadows of twisted oaks while flickering lightening bugs below blend with the twinkling stars above. They imagine a place where everyone speaks to one another and the most dangerous thing in town is a poisonous snake slithering through the vegetable garden.
The bright white moon shines on a red dirt road that somehow looks different at night and the cows lift their heads when they hear the teens singing and laughing at the top of their lungs. Over the ruckus of crickets and frogs, there’s time to discuss important things like the first presidential election they’ve been old enough to understand or the girl one of the boys just noticed who has a nice laugh and swears he once made her cry in preschool.
The boys who play football have to leave early to get a good night’s sleep because even in the summer, there’s early morning practice, since there’s a good chance the state championship may be within reach this year.
The long days of summer stretch on forever with no concept of what life will soon become. College, careers and marriage will arrive quickly and one day, a grown man will step out of his air-conditioned office and deeply inhale the late summer heat. It will be then, for a brief moment, he’s reminded of his teenage friends and what it was like to be 16 in the summer in the South.
photos courtesy of my 16 year old son, Joseph.