THE ENDLESS SUMMER - Labor Day 1973
by Tom Spader
Stepping back in the splintered sunlight filtering through the boardwalk over-head we admired our handiwork. There it was for all time. “Tom and Robyn, Sept. 1973” carved into the huge support beam, surrounded by a heart, pierced with an arrow.
It was Labor Day Tuesday. Summer had come and gone. Overnight the small seaside resort was transformed from a loud, crowded tourist trap to a quiet anywhere town.
There was an eerie silence in the early morning sun, a sharp contrast to the deafening noise from the night before. Gone were the sounds of tourists screaming on the thrill rides. Gone were the barkers calling to the passer-bys to try their wheels of chance. Gone was the sound of bad cover bands seeping out onto the boardwalk from the crowded bars.
The boardwalk looked different that morning too. You could stand and look for hundreds of yards without seeing another person. The view was only occasionally broken by a seagull landing near one of the over-filled garbage cans to feast on bits of pizza crust or greasy French fries left behind by the summer’s final crowd.
Our wooden monument carved under the boardwalk was a perfect place to pledge our "and". She was the city girl. I was the local. We met three months earlier just above our heads in a restaurant where I had a summer job. Robyn used to come off the beach everyday for a soda or ice cream. I was a soda-jerk working the counter. We couldn’t remember who saw who first, but the attraction was mutual.
I said that carving our names would bind us together through the long winter months ahead that we would be apart. We wouldn’t see each other again until next June. She was leaving in a few short hours to go home with her parents.
Times were different then. Kids our age didn’t use the word love lightly. We thought long and hard what we should use to join our names. Using the word love would have meant we were in very unchartered waters for a fourteen and thirteen year old and a place that neither one of us were ready to sail.
We agreed 'likes' wasn’t strong enough. We settled on 'AND.'
For that summer we were an AND.... as much of an AND that a couple of young teenagers could be. For us it was a summer of innocence and discovery as our AND was meeting nearly every night near the restaurant where I worked during the day. We'd wander around or just sit and talk on one of the many old fashioned rocking chairs that lined an open air deck overlooking the ocean. We'd sneak a quick kiss and the simple thrill of that would carry us until the next night. We were kids.
We spent our final morning together hand in hand. Robyn met me at sunrise outside the restaurant - the oversized garage doors to the open air dining room were now closed for the season. Everything seemed different that morning.
Robyn and I walked down to the water’s edge and we let the ocean waves wash across our feet. Looking down we laughed at the different colors our legs had turned. Mine were still very white from being in long pants fifty hours a week in the restaurant and hers were a golden bronze, tanned from her hours on the beach. We would soon trade these colors as she would once again dress like her friends in the city in designer jeans and stylish shirts and I would be in my shorts and T-shirts as my summer job would be swapped for hours on the beach after school. That’s the way it was, the locals never seemed to be tan during the summer.
We walked north towards the inlet. The sun was glistening gold and white off the ocean and the warm breezes were a reminder that the summer had not yet ended.
Reaching the rocks of the jetty we climbed out to the end and sat. Neither of us had said a word since we emerged from carving our names under the boardwalk.
Robyn was the first to break the silence, “Will you write?”
With a smile I answered, “Every week.”
She said that she would never forget this summer. Trying to think of something clever and mature I told her that this was an Endless Summer and that we would carry this memory through the winter and pick up right here where we left off next June when she returned.
We sat in silence until the sun was well above the horizon and the heat of the late summer’s day began to grow. It was time for her to head back to her parent’s summer bungalow. It was time for her to leave my sand and return to her pavement.
I walked her to within a block of the house. At thirteen she was too young in her parents eyes to have a boyfriend, even if we really were only an AND.
We kissed goodbye. It was the first time we had ever kissed in broad daylight. We held that kiss not knowing it would be our last.
She turned and walked down the narrow walkway between the summer cottages. They all looked the same. She looked back just before she turned out of sight and quickly looked away. She didn’t want me to see that she had broken her promise not to cry.
I took the long way home, back along the ocean’s edge, lost in thought, before turning down my block.
At first we wrote each other every week. I think she wrote her first letter on the car ride home. By Christmas the letters were more about school and friends and less about us. By the end of the winter the letters had fallen off to once a month. She only wrote once that spring. I didn’t even answer. The distance was just too much for a couple of kids experimenting with a summer romance.
As early summer rolled around again I got my job back at the restaurant and once again fell into a local teenager’s summer routine. I thought about her and wondered, no hoped, she thought about me.
Summers came and went and the years slipped by. I moved away a few times, but wound up settling not more than five blocks from where I used to work on the boardwalk.
I married and I heard she did the same. I laughed when my wife and I were comparing notes on our past and found that she had the same teen-age years that I did only she substituted a wooded summer camp on the Chesapeake Bay for my beach, but the scenes played out pretty much the same way.
One night during a winter storm I heard the local fire department whistle calling the volunteers from their beds. I looked out my front window to see the sky over the ocean glowing a bright orange and knew that the only thing in town big enough to burn with that intensity was the boardwalk.
I walked up the street and watched the restaurant where I had spent my summers go up in flames. It may have been twenty degrees and snowing that night, but as I watched the boardwalk burn I remembered the warmth of that summer when I was fourteen. As the flames moved across where Robyn and I carved our names that morning, it seemed like yesterday.
I guess it truly was an Endless Summer.
Observations at the supermarket
A kid's modern history lesson
As seen by me at 8 years old
Labor Day 1973
(Part III of the adventures of Haiku Lou)
Observations/true story while bar tending in Baltimore 1984
The night Nixon quit through my eyes at 15
Chance meeting in a snow covered city park
Observation at the all night mini mart
Adventures of a street poet
Lou and Omba in Washington Square
God's ant-like face shines
Changing roles in a city library
Coming soon ...