Each of us has a golden summer--a year that shapes our lives forever, engraving itself on our minds with such clarity that each of our senses competes to recall it most vividly.
The summer of 1970 is the summer that lives with me always. Now, forty years after that wondrous summer, I can remember the joys, savor the tastes, breathe the fragrances, and hear the sounds of that glorious three month period.
Much of that summer was spent in Sven Ahlstrom's blue '68 Chevy Malibu, riding and talking and listening to music and envisioning our futures while cherishing a present that seemed as if it would go on forever.
Sven had an Altanta Constitution paper route at the time, and I had plenty of time. I didn't have a part-time job that summer, because I had been accepted to Berry College's Summer Enrichment program and had classes a couple of days a week. That left me with more unscheduled free time than I've had at any other time in my life, and I spent much of that time riding Sven's route with him--and riding many summer nights away as we celebrated the freedom that came with Sven's car and a modest amount of spending money. Most of that money was Sven's, of course; my income came from mowing a few lawns and doing a few chores around the house--chores for which Mom and Dad paid me far more than the going rate, thankfully.
While Susan was already a part of my life at that time--and there were the occasional Saturday that she, Sven, and I would spend together--Susan was already working in the payroll department of Arrow in Cedartown, and lacked the free time that Sven and I took for granted. So much of that summer was spent with her only on weekends; the weekdays belonged to Sven and me.
I had a stereo at home, but the only transportation regularly available to me was a '64 Volkswagen with an AM radio that worked intermittently--usually only when it was raining, in fact. However, Sven had bestowed upon his Malibu the one and only eight track player owned by any of our circle of friends, so it became a rolling concert-hall-and-listening-room for us as we endlessly played the few tapes that came to define that summer.
The car wasn't air conditioned, but that didn't matter to either of us. At home, we had air conditioning only in the living room and my parents' bedroom; the rest of the house depended on fans and open windows for cooling. Sven's house was the same, as best I can recall; the truth is, we spent little time at Sven's house and spent more time at my house or at Gary Steele's or Ida Hutchings'.
Gary had been my best friend for many years, and shared an interest in fanzines, comics, and science fiction that had been a driving force in my life; we had gradually instilled in Sven some of those same interests (if I remember correctly, he already shared an interest in SF and had some familiarity with comics, so our friendship developed quite easily). Ida was a grade ahead of me at West Rome High School, but we had shared some classes; she was easy to talk to and fun to be with, and Sven seemed to enjoy her company.
Ida's home was sometimes available during the day, and we'd spend time there. That may sound incriminating, but our afternoons were spent innocently talking and listening to music and daydreaming about the future. Since Ida's house was located midway between my house and Sven's, it was convenient to drop by on our way from either place to either place. So Ida became a part of our group, spending the occasional afternoon with us.
But Ida's home life was turbulent; her father drank too much too often, and that meant that sometimes he slept and sometimes he was angry. To those of us on the outside looking in, there was little in between. So we might go for days without hearing from Ida as she dealt with family issues; she rarely spoke of them, but we could tell that they weighed on her.
Gary would ride with us occasionally, but he was less interested in spending the summer in that Malibu--particularly since Sven was driving and I had claimed the front passenger seat, leaving Gary stuck in the back. So for most of the summer, it was the two of us.
And Steppenwolf Live. And In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. And Through the Past (Darkly). and The Sounds of Silence. And Let It Be. Oh, how we played Let It Be. It is perhaps the only album in whose mind I am sometimes conflicted as to which song comes next; while I listened to the album frequently, we played that eight-track so long that its slightly different song order seems just as natural to me as the song order on the album I played at home.
To this day, every one of these albums will take me back to that Malibu, and to the summer spent with Sven. In those albums, I am again 16 going on 17. I can still enjoy the freedom that comes with carefree hours and Detroit steel. I can still remember the plans and dreams that shaped that summer, and I find it fascinating that they have endured for four decades virtually undiminished.
I don't know if that summer means anything at all to Sven or to Ida or to Gary... but it will forever be a defining season for me, and I not only won't let it go, I can't let it go. It is as a vital part of me, and I owe much of what I have become since then to that golden summer.