Sunshine Days ©Averyell A. KesslerIt’s a hot Friday in May and Mama and I are driving to Power School for the most joyous day in the school year – the last. I’m eleven and the folksy voice of Farmer Jim Neal mixes with the steamy air drifting into our car. It’s a time for celebration and finality, my saddle shoes will be cast aside, my blue zipper notebook is headed for a high closet shelf, and the ultimate bete noire, my arithmetic workbook, will be cast aside as damaged goods. Sunshine days are back. Hooray!Sadly, I’m still dealing with “the arm.” This simple pre-seat belt technique wasn’t a product of Vincent Price’s fertile imagination or a variation of his seat-rattling chiller “The Tingler,” but a handy movement used by almost every parent in Jackson. As Mama’s black Chevy coupe slowly guides to the corner of Laurel and St. Mary, she is wary; a stop sign is just ahead. As usual, traffic does not exist, no cars are visible, no strollers either, not even a rambling dog. Nevertheless, her arm shoots out. Bam! The car stops, and I am pressed against the seat back, immobile, breathless, and pinned tighter than a butterfly in a bug collection. My voice catches, I am unable to speak.“Are you alright,” Mama asks. My stomach constricts, as my breakfast of sliced bananas and cheerios rises in my throat.“Uhuh,” I gasp, swallowing hard.She releases me. I am safe, I guess. That’s what she tells me. The car lurches forward; we pass the stop sign as well as a row of duplexes near Belhaven Creek. Riverside Drive is just ahead, so I know that arm is coming again. If I am lucky, maybe it will disappear over the summer. And summer, as I know so well, presents another set of challenges.Even though I am an only child, my mother is well schooled in parenting skills she learned from Dr. Spock, back fence chatter, and the Fletcher’s Castoria label. Her summer litany of rules and regulations will appear the moment the doors of Power School were closed and locked.-No swimming until 30 minutes after I’ve eaten. It doesn’t matter if I’ve only consumed one tiny mint or a handful of M & M’s, a mustard coated pronto pup, a bag of potato chips, or an enomous a dripping Nutty Buddy, I wait on the side of the pool as thirty unending, molasses-slow minutes tick by and I learn the meaning of eternity. Orange crush counts too.-Keep your band-aid dry, especially if a bleeding ankle has been slathered with merthiolate. Although it stains and stings like an angry hornet, it works. The arrival of stingless Bactine was a childhood miracle.-Do not step on an ant hill or poke it with a stick. Those pesky critters can outrun a Cheetah in less a minute. Never scratch a mosquito bite or touch anything that crawls across sidewalk, slithers down a honeysuckle vine, chitters, or hides in the azaleas. If something jumps out of the hedges and growls, run. Roses have thorns, and snapping turtles are aptly named. Duck and cover if something swoops down from the sky. Sounds simple enough, but there’s more.-Do not track mud, sprinkler water, or freshly cut grass into the house. Dripping bathing suits belong outside, not hanging over a towel rack in the bathroom. Going to sleep with damp, chlorine scented hair is a no-no. Although green is a lovely color, it doesn’t blend well with Sunday school outfits. Neither does bubble gum or dirty fingernails.-Make sure all the checkers remain in the Monopoly box as well as the dice, the get out of jail free cards and tokens, especially my favorite, the top hat.-And finally, lick your ice cream cone from the bottom not the top. The same goes for grape popsicles, push-ups, and anything else in Shady Nook’s tempting drink box.My childhood rules for easy, sunshine days were simple. Keep my shoes in the closet, a frozen coke in the fridge, and a quarter in my pocket in case the ice cream man comes by. Visits to the dentist will vanish, as well as spelling tests, piano lessons, and mushy green beans in the school cafeteria. I have a choice between Riverside pool and the blowup one in the back yard. The rigorous efforts of the Presbyterians will melt away and I will abandon memorizing anything, ever.In summer, my imagination blossomed as the adults in my life stepped back and allowed me to soar. I made up my own stories and plotted out my own games. It was a time for lying in the grass and staring at the sky as a menagerie of clouds floated by. I spent afternoon’s searcing for a drifting elephant or a puffy white frog. Genie’s too.The public library was a wonderland because Peter Pan lived there, as well as Madeline, Babar, and The Borrowers. So did Winnie and his gang. I had no idea where deepest darkest Peru was, but I knew Paddington.As I May drifted into June, the calendar taped to our fridge was blank. There was no drumbeat of organized activities and no adults stifling the simmering pot of childhood creativity. The smotherings summer heat meant nothing except running through the sprinkler, making clover necklaces, and watching Daddy lift a dripping paddle out of the ice cream freezer. Better yet, television had not captured my soul.Still, I knew what was coming, summer was not endless. When August approached, as it always did, my sunshine days would fade like dandelions in the grass. Power School would reopen again, the rattle of my alarm clock would shake me awake, and our Chevy’s would resume its slow path to Riverside Drive. As a rising fifth grader, my status at Power would be substantially upgraded, and anything was possible. But while freedom reigned, I intended to squeeze the last bit of sticky, sweet juice out of every sunshine day. When it was all over, perhaps the arm would finally disappear.

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