No matter my age, the waning days of August – and, therefore, summer – always bring to mind Puff the Magic Dragon and his once-great friend, little Jackie Paper.
When our children were small, Puff was often their bedtime song of choice. They never knew, as we laughed, danced, and sang together, about the strong connection their Dad felt with this song, which is a metaphor for the end of childhood.
“Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sails…”
As a boy, I had three very best friends: Paul, Philip, and Evans. There were certainly others, good friends all, but these three were special. From ages eight to fourteen (and much longer with Paul), we were inseparable, at least during the summer.
Summer days began early and ended as late as the grown-ups in our lives would allow. Baseball was our first fascination, but there was also ample space made for kickball, bike chases, lunches at the local sub shop, swimming, bowling, and all other activities comprising the “stuff” of childhood. We had great, uncomplicated fun.
“A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys…”
My memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I believe I was ten when the disturbing news came that Evans would be moving away – rather far away.
He and his family had been living on the bottom floor of a two-family house owned by Evans’ grandmother, who lived upstairs. His grandmother chose to remain in our neighborhood, but the rest of the family would be moving out of state.
When Evans broke the news, our sadness was mitigated by his promise – supported by his parents – that he’d be spending summers with his grandmother… and, therefore, with us.
Evans proved good on his word; and, for the next several years, summer was redefined as the time between Evans’ arrival (always by early July) and his departure (in mid- to late August).
“One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more…”
Each return was a time of genuine anticipation and joy. Between visits, however, life happened.
As time passed, Evans’ connections at home and the lure to remain there year-round naturally grew stronger. And so, a summer eventually came when Evans opted to not to come.
“Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys…”
The following summer, Evans, who had recently gotten his driver’s license, surprised us by driving to Massachusetts himself. (His father had always driven him previously.) His car was a brand new Datsun 260Z.
Evans’ visit was a short one, just a few days; and, while there, he kept mentioning how much he missed his girlfriend back home. I understood.
There were no baseball games; and, throughout his visit, my bicycle remained idle and rusting in my parent’s garage. In a few short years, the world had changed so very much.
I saw and spoke with Evans a few more times between the mid-seventies and the mid-eighties, but it’s now been nearly thirty years since I last heard my dear friend’s voice.
I’m so very sentimental! For me, childhood will always mean Paul, Philip, and Evans… my little Jackie Paper.
I still love them all dearly. I’ll always cherish the times we “went to play along the cherry lane.” And, whenever I reminisce, I’m sure that I’ll find myself wiping off the “green scales” trickling down my cheeks.