What You Did ‘Last’ Summer
Remember the last summer you were a kid?
I’m talking about a bona fide, documents-on-the-wall, true blue kid, a kid with a bicycle and a dog but no driver’s license and no “real” job, and not much sense.
THAT summer. The one before confusion and hormones kicked in, before your heroes disappointed you, before you learned your parents weren’t perfect and the world wasn’t either.
It was that summer before high school when your calling card was the joy of being young and irresponsible, when ice cream melting, a flat tire on your Schwinn, and a crack in your baseball bat were your biggest problems. Other than having to be home at 6 for supper, your schedule was as open as the day’s possibilities.
How did you spend your “last” summer? And when was it?
If you’re Don Reid, that summer was The Summer of 1959, and he tells you all about it and much more in “Piano Days,” his 11th book published since his retirement from the music industry in 2002.
If the author’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the lead singer for The Statler Brothers, one of the most awarded acts in the history of country music. If you know the name “Don Reid” like you know your friends’ names, then you are basically me or like me — an authentic, genuine, certified Statlers nut.
Just thinking about The Statlers and their producer, Shreveport’s Jerry Kennedy, makes me feel good. I see those names and immediately hear music, the kind that won more awards than you can shake a dobro at.
Don has quit singing now except for Sunday mornings at Mt. Olivet Presbyterian, his church since boyhood in Staunton, Virginia. A prolific songwriter, he has not, thank the Lord, quit writing.
Published by Mercer University Press in Macon, Georgia, “Piano Days” is a novel featuring three boys growing up in a small town in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They ride 26-inchers with chrome handlebars, frequent the Burger Barn, visit a fortune teller and football games, grab a book out of a locker for World Geography class, call girls and then hang up before the final number has been dialed, and sometimes timidly and sometimes bravely go on actual dates.
There’s Toby and Billy, Sue Jane and the two Tinas, Lannie Mae and Main Street, and the National Guard Armory and the ol’ green and white, the school colors. These are teens who learn to dance (sort of). They endure a principal who is half Joe Friday and half Edgar G. Robinson. Somebody drops a jar in science lab, the one with the snake in formaldehyde. They ask Daddy for the keys and go to the drive-in.
Your memories and mine, simple and sweet.
It’s a time, Don writes – more appropriately, the book’s main narrator writes – that he looks back on “with a tenderness and a sadness that makes me smile.” Those times include that summer of 1959 when they were just boys, imperfect, but having fun. Their last biking summer, their “last summer for being kids and doing kid things and not being ashamed of them,” he writes. “The last summer for exploring the mysteries of life without having to solve them.”
“Maybe it’s the last one I can look back on with absolutely no regrets — except that it is gone forever, taking the people and the time with it, and leaving only my sentimental memory as a witness that it was ever there at all.”
So it’s been for us all, once upon a beautiful time …
“Piano Days” is a love letter to a special place and time, one long Statler Brothers song. But it also offers you a mirror to consider how that summer and the precious ones around it come back to you years later in ways you could not have known or even imagined then.
You can read “Piano Days” or listen to it or, like me, do both. The audiobook is read by Don, so it’s like he’s next to you, telling you about church softball and the county fair and the Christmas parade and all the other things he — and we — did as kids when we were imperfect and youthfully irresponsible, blissfully ignorant, and having fun.
There’s a last time for everything, even barefoot summers. So, allow yourself some time to remember and daydream. It feels good to be a kid again.