“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.” — George R.R. Martin

With sunny skies, gentle breezes and temperatures in the mid-70s, the weather last Thursday was a central casting picture-perfect summer day. 

A veritable feast for the senses, the weather put me in a nostalgic reverie for the summers of my childhood — days just like this one — in the simpler decades before cell phones and electronic gaming systems, years when we made our own fun.

In the 1972 lyrics of soft rock duo Seals and Crofts, the summer breeze made me feel fine, blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind. Or, being home and laid low by a summer cold, maybe it was just the potent cocktail of 7UP, DayQuil and Mucinex blowin’ through my mind. But I digress.

Growing up on Milwaukee’s far northwest side two score and eight years ago, Ken, Brian, Brad, Mike, Matt, Dawn, Jay, Corey and I were card-carrying members of the “Sandlot” friends group in our townhouse complex. Aluminum screen doors a-banging, we’d convene after breakfast and disband at dusk when the mosquitos drove us indoors, the only breaks in the action being quick refuelings for lunch and dinner.

Filled with activity, adventure and a good dose of juvenile hijinks, the days were long, but they felt short, jam-packed with action including pick-up baseball and basketball games, cooling kiddie pools and lawn sprinklers, imagination-spurred G.I. Joe and sandbox adventures, counting railcars on the many passing Chicago & Northwestern freights, re-enacting “Emergency” episodes with our bicycle and Big Wheel fire apparatus, and high-in-the-sky fun in our aerial tree fort.

Miniature Muirs, Leopolds and Thoreaus, much of our time was spent intrepidly exploring “the crik,” a glorified natural storm water runoff drainage ditch bordered by blue-flowered chicory and snowy white Queen Anne?lace that had all the wilderness glories that urban Milwaukee could possibly muster back in the day — cattails, snails, a bevy of crayfish, the occasional turtle, and zipping and swooping masses of dragonflies in many sizes and hues. 

Milkweed plants along the creek offered us the opportunity to watch monarch caterpillars make their miraculous chrysalis transformation to monarch butterflies. 

It may not sound like much compared to the many natural glories the North Woods has to offer, but it was the wilderness primeval for us, ripe for exploring.

The mid-day heat, particularly on sultry days, would sometimes drive us indoors into cooling townhouse basements for board games, foosball, miniature billiards, model railroading, slot car racing, swap sessions of baseball and Wacky Packages trading cards, and spirited sessions of electronic football. Host moms would serve up lemonade, stubby bottles of Coca-Cola, popsicles, watermelon, cookies and popcorn.

But, alas, the carefree days of summer always ended with the post-Labor Day arrival of the new school year, and, eventually, childhood would draw to an end as well, seemingly in the blink of an eye. But it was fun while it lasted.

As author H.G. Wells once noted, “We all have our time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back are memories…”

And for a few brief fleeting moments last Thursday, it was 1972 once more as the summer breezes — and memories — were blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind. Or maybe through the DayQuil and Mucinex.