A Different Kind of Summer


When I opened my report card and saw the “Passed to sixth grade,” I smiled and waited impatiently to be dismissed. Soon everyone was rushing out the door, anxious to enjoy a glorious, carefree summer. When I got home, however, I found out that it was going to be a different kind of summer.

My little sister, Midge, was waiting on the back porch with her chin in her hands. When she saw me coming through the yard, she perked up and smiled. I bounded up the back porch steps and burst into the house. “I passed!” I shouted as I headed for the stairs.

Midge followed me to my room and collapsed across my bed as I pulled my dress over my head. I yanked on a pair of pants and was reaching for a T-shirt, when I heard my younger brother, Art, pounding up the stairs.

“I passed!” he called, zooming into his room. “What are we going to do first?” he shouted eagerly. “Have a circus or build a lean-to or what?”

I opened the door, tugged at my tennis shoe, and called, “Dig an underground!”

Instantly he appeared at the door of my room. “Huh?”

“Dig an underground!” I repeated and reached for a scrap of paper on my nightstand. I laid it on my bed, smoothing it flat, and pointed out the tunnels and rooms, explaining each passageway.

“Wow!” he gasped. “We can have secret meetings there and everything!”

“Right. And we’ll dig an entrance behind Joey and Darlene’s garage”—I pointed—“if they help us dig.”

“They’re coming over as soon as they change their clothes,” Art said with a nod.

“Good. Then we can get started.”

I folded the plans and shoved them into my pocket. With Art and Midge close behind, I rushed downstairs. In the kitchen Mom was waiting. “We’re going to dig an underground in the vacant lot,” I announced, heading for the back door.

“Art and Midge can go,” Mom said, “but I’d like to talk to you, Brea.”

I looked at her questioningly, then handed Art the plans. “You can start digging, I guess.”

They went out on the back porch and looked over their shoulders through the screen door. “Go on,” I told them. “You can start without me.”

Mom sat at the table and shook her head, smiling. “Brea, you’ll soon be eleven. Your older sister has gotten a summer job, so you can’t be spending this summer as you usually do, because I need you to take over some of the things she did.”

Beyond the garage, Joey and Darlene were probably joining Midge and Art, and I squirmed in my chair. “But, Mom …”

“Honey, you’re getting too old to be doing nothing but playing. It’s time you learned some practical things and helped around here a little more.”

I looked at the sunny blue sky and beckoning summer. “I do chores, Mom.”

“Yes, but with Sharlene working, I need you to help more, and I’d appreciate it if you’d start by scrubbing the bathroom floor. Now.”

Mom said it kindly, but firmly. It was a tone I never argue with.

As I sloshed soapy water back and forth over the tiled floor, I could hear the gang outside. I stopped and looked wistfully out the window at them. This isn’t the kind of summer I planned at all, I thought disgustedly. I’m their leader, and here I am, inside working!

The following day I had to help Mom clean out the hall cupboard. At noon Art and Midge came in, looking like happy orphans, and I asked how the underground was coming.

“We’re building a treehouse instead,” Art announced excitedly. “The ground’s too hard to dig.”

They raced upstairs to wash, and it slowly dawned on me: I was no longer their leader. None of them were moping around, wondering what to do, or bugging me for suggestions. They were doing fine without me. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.

That afternoon I went to the orchard and picked cherries, just as I had every summer. This time, though, Mom said she’d teach me how to make piecrusts. I didn’t care much about learning to make piecrusts, but at dinner, as Dad eased his fork into a wedge of pie, I found myself waiting breathlessly. It seemed to take him forever to get that bite into his mouth. Then a broad smile crossed his face.

“The best pie I’ve ever tasted,” he said grandly.

Mom grinned and patted my hand. “Brea made it all by herself,” Mom announced proudly. “Everything from picking the cherries to taking it out of the oven.”

On Friday Mom sent me to get some things from the store. Walking home along Poplar Street, the fine spray of a hose shocked me out of my daydreaming. I looked up and saw Beverly Tinber hosing down her sidewalk.

“Did I get you wet?” she called. “Sorry.”

I brushed the drops of water from my arm and grinned. “Not very. Is this where you live?”

“Yeah,” she said with disgust in her voice. She turned off the water and came over to talk to me. “I hate doing chores!”

“Me, too,” I agreed. “What do you like to do?”

She pushed out her bottom lip and blew upward, trying to blow her hair out of her eyes. “I wish there were some woods around here. I’d like to go for a cool walk.”

I grinned. “There’s a woods at the end of our road. I’d be glad to take you, if you’d like.”

She smiled eagerly. “Really? How do I get there?”

“Just go to the school, then walk to Murdock’s Lane and turn onto Painter Avenue, then … Oh, that’s too complicated. I could just meet you at the school. How about Saturday? Could you go Saturday morning?” I asked anxiously.

“I think so. Give me your telephone number, and I’ll call you.”

I ripped a tiny scrap of paper from the grocery bag, scribbled my phone number on it, then handed it to her.

“I’ll give you mine, too,” she said as she reached for the pencil.

As I waved and started for home again, I knew I had a smile on my face. This was a different kind of summer, all right. But maybe different wasn’t going to be all bad!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney