Summer flight

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(Host) In anticipation of Labor Day and the traditional end of summer, VPR commentators have been recalling “Summer Times” of the past that continue to have meaning today. Here’s commentator Libby Sternberg with memories of summer dreams.

(Sternberg) One summer night in the late 1950s, I was playing with my friends in the backyard of my family’s Baltimore, Maryland row home.

These homes had postage-stamp back yards that backed onto an alley that, on summer evenings, was a thoroughfare for children on bikes, skates and skate boards.

One night when the air was cloyingly tropical, my friends and I decided we could fly. We draped sheets over our arms, climbed to the top of the chain link fences around our yards, looked at the birds above us thinking we’d soon be joining our feathered friends swooping across the sky, and we jumped into the alley.

And we jumped. And jumped again.

Needless to say, we didn’t fly. But I remember that night vividly because I never for one second doubted our ability to fly. Even though I failed to fly, I didn’t go to bed disappointed. I was sure another try, in a different position, would eventually lead to success.

That kind of heady hope permeated my pre-teen years, and I sometimes think it was part of a greater fabric of brightness, initiated by the communal sigh of relief that threaded its way through post-World-War II America. It was the theme song of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign – “High Hopes” – sung by our parents’ generation’s iconic crooner, Frank Sinatra.

Right before Kennedy died, my family moved out of that row home into a “single family” unit in the suburbs. Later I was surprised to learn we were only seven miles from downtown. But it felt like a world away.

It’s easy to look back now and be judgmental about the programs and mindset that led to suburban developments thus beginning the inexorable march toward what we now call “sprawl.” But I doubt very seriously if any government program or lack thereof would have changed my father’s decision to move us out of the city and into greener pastures. He’d been raised in a row home even further in town, and his yard had had no grass whatsoever. When he moved us to the suburbs, he wasn’t thinking about highway construction making it easier for him to commute, or mortgage tax deductions making home-owning a good financial decision.

He was thinking of getting out and away from the things that bound him to the Old World – of moving from narrowed expectations to unlimited hope, of jumping from the fence and flying free.

This is Libby Sternberg from Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is an author and freelance writer who’s active in education issues. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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