The summer I turned nine was filled with days spent with my two best friends, Punch and Dell. A day would begin at first light as I slipped through the house like a ghost after pulling on faded shorts and a too-small shirt. Punch, Dell, and I had already hatched our plans late the night before, after our parents had checked on us and thought the still lumps in our beds meant we were asleep. We tip- toed to windowsills, where starched curtains snapped in the breeze of summer nights. Our whispered messages carried like smoke on air currents across the street, unheard in living rooms below.
The refrigerator light caused temporary blindness to my sleepy pupils as I groped for the glass milk bottle. The milk, a day-old pastry, and a stem of green grapes were all that would sustain my whip-thin body for most of the day. I eased the screen door closed, stuffed the wire basket of my dilapidated blue Schwinn with my breakfast, and pedaled away before my father trumpeted his nose, a sure sign that the day had begun.
The three of us raced down the block, took the corner without breaking, and rocketed through the park to Lake Phalen. I left my bike without a kickstand—I called her Lena Ginster—propped against a tree. The milk cooled, wedged in the sandy bottom of the lake, while we scrambled up giant oak trees until we reached the uppermost branches that swayed in the wind, our bodies offering little resistance.
We weren’t much for dolls that summer. We only resembled girls when we glued bottle caps to our sneakers and became tap dancers for a day. Instead we were forest rangers, high-wire walkers, or what- ever game we conjured up. We told outrageous lies and made pinky swears to keep secrets just between us three. At the rumble of our stomachs, we scrambled down the rough bark adding new scrapes to our scabbed knees and dared each other to jump from a higher limb. We waved at DeSoto and Ford coupes as they rounded the lake, and we hooted in delight when someone tooted their horn to break the morning’s silence.
When we got tired of catching frogs and chasing grasshoppers, we mounted our bikes to speed off around the lake with our handlebar streamers flapping against bare, freckled arms. We coasted down the last hill, feet free of pedals, our stick legs stretched out to the sides. At Honeymoon Falls we wedged off our red Keds, stretched our socks off by the toes, and rolled them into tight little balls. Hiking to the top of the falls, we tossed our socks into the foamy water, and raced down the rocky incline and over the road to reach the stream before our socks popped through the culvert on the other side. The first sock to surface, won. Poor Punch, one sock got caught in the culvert every time. That summer’s game ended when Punch’s mother began to count her socks.