With Fresh Eyes

Summer’s End

The quiet moments of summer are behind us, in retreat. The unhurried pace of weeks past, embodied in leisurely beach time, outdoor play, and extended evening light, has been consumed by August’s relentless rush toward the autumn season. An early kick-off to schools’ return to classes and cooler, abridged twilight foreshadow the passage to fall. For many, such occurrences signal a bittersweet return to an adherence to structure and routine.

Summer’s close evokes an enduring childhood remembrance, of letting go of a carefree and exuberant existence. Looking back now on the summer of 1964, as a 12-year-old, with September approaching, I recall a sense of apprehension in those last free days for what was ahead – the initial venture into junior high mandating a new setting, unfamiliar faces, and a novel, perplexing school day routine. Perhaps that’s why things felt different that summer. I was letting go of more than just a summer; it was a transitional moment, an awkward and unsettling passage. Childhood into adolescence.

Labor Day came, and my friends and I approached that final vacation day with an unmatched intensity and purpose. One last bike ride, one last neighborhood baseball game. Gathering that evening under a favored corner streetlight, we took stock of summer’s doings but, mostly, we shared our expectations of the school year ahead. Later, the streetlight came on, and our mothers’ voices plucked us off that corner, one by one, back home to an early bedtime. Our summer, and a chapter in our lives, had reached their end.

That moment came back recently as friends (our informal movie group: Dan, Brad, Tim, Foley) gathered for a viewing of the 1986 Rob Reiner film Stand By Me, a tale of four 12-year-olds who share one last adventure together during the Labor Day weekend of 1959, just before their initiation into junior high school life. They go in search of a boy’s body - a fellow classmate killed by a train deep in the Oregon woods. It becomes a journey of self-discovery. It is a turning point in their lives.

As we learn at the end of the film, the transition to junior high splits the group apart, and they soon become only passing figures in the hallway. Such milestones, and life itself, affect and change us in a profound manner. We seek deeper meaning in the imprint such moments have on our lives. I search for such meaning in the themes explored in Stand By Me. As L.A. Times film critic Sheila Benson stated, this film, with its soundtrack of songs from that era, gives us “jolts of affectionate memory.” The journey the boys embark on takes them from embracing childlike thoughts over a nighttime campfire to grappling with adult responsibility when they discover the dead body. Their sense of innocence is ruptured as the world grows more complicated, more disconcerting. That last adventure together changes the course of their lives and their winsome ways.

The movie is based on the Stephen King novella “The Body.” A concluding line in the book used in the film states, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.” Benson wrote of the story’s featured players: “Then, in the fullness of late summer, the four friends have an instant of absolute perception. Who they were, what was around them, where they were going – before the world blurred all the outlines.” That sense of sureness can be blurred, can be thwarted, by life’s realities, by the certainty of change. It is not confined to any period of one’s life. The lessons learned from my 12-year-old self in 1964, and the fictional characters of 1959, now serve me well in navigating through the inevitable changes and challenges of life’s remaining chapters.

Contact Rich at richmskgn@gmail.com