They moved in the summer before third grade. Scuttlebutt in the neighborhood was that there were two boys, one about my age, but when I saw them in the back patio there were two boys and a girl, although she appeared to be older than 8. My mom came out to peek from the deck, “the girl is their mom dear, sorry, two boys”.
Their house, next door to ours, sat at an angle meaning that I could effectively spy, from our guest room, directly into their backyard and garage. After two weeks of constant surveillance, my father suggested I introduce myself in person.
Not necessary, the large trampoline in our backyard served as a magnet for all the neighborhood kids and in no time the boys joined the assembled crowd bouncing dangerously close to one another. That September Michael and I were in the same third grade class; Jeff and Lori moved in soon after, and Amy after that. The Scanlons, Storys and Clossers were just down the street, the Ridge and Campbell families just across. My mother, terrified of neighborhood children flying too far and landing injuriously on the hard ground, or worse, on one another,required that everyone who jumped on the trampoline have a note from their parents. That old wooden box full of handwritten notes provided hours of entertainment for me on rainy days.
The entire scope of my young childhood memory is centered on this trampoline, surrounded by these people, all day and long into the night. After dinner, but before our parents started calling from their back doors, we would sprawl from one end to the other, tired of jumping all day, and relax in the familiarity of the friends who made up our every summer moment. Only the jingle of the ice cream truck was compelling enough to pull us from our comfortable roost.Dusk moved to night as the fireflies joined us, someone ran home for Popsicles and we ended our day, yet again, a sticky mess of dirty children. There was bickering and fighting, and laughing and loving, even though we were far too young to admit that. It was on that trampoline that Eddy told me, with knowledge acquired in his year of seniority, the exact role my parents played in my being, and I did not believe one word of it. It was there that I blurted out "I love you" when I meant to say something far less committing, and then cowered for weeks after, secretly hoping that no one heard me blunder the most important thing you could ever say to another. It was there that we took turns, shared, supported and dusted off the bump when one of us fell particularly hard.
Because they lived next door, my day often began when Michael appeared on our back deck, soon after breakfast, "wanna jump?", the neighborhood code words for "come out and play". From the two of us the usual crowd assembled and thus began yet another summer day, without agenda, just as it had been the day before.
We grew up, grew apart, moved away. Gatherings moved from our trampoline to the house next door, Michael's fully outfitted basement the new home for the next stage of our young lives. Completely ill at ease in a dark basement surrounded by friends becoming teenagers, I often made my way upstairs to the family room, spending my boy/girl party time with Mr. and Mrs. Feeney who kindly relinquished their quiet evening to the awkward girl next door. When I tripped over my brand new, and completely hideous, platform sandals at the junior high football banquet, it was Mr. Feeney who pulled me off the floor and saved me from years of certain embarrassment by delivering one of his straight on one liners.
The snow falls outside the coffee shop window, 500 miles away from the old trampoline. The death this past weekend of Michael's father reminds me that distance is measured not only in miles but also in years. With little effort I hear his big voice screaming from the patio, "Michuuuul, Patriiick", so frequently ignored by his sons. Eventually he would appear in our yard, hands on hips, exasperated look on his face, cocktail in hand, and our summer night would end. Remembering him this week brought back that night, and those wonderful summers. Goodnight Mr. Feeney, and thank you.