Ah, summertime in Washington. Volleyball nets suddenly appear on every available square foot of green space from the Lincoln Memorial to the Kennedy Center. Food trucks line the streets and white tents overflow with musicians, souvenir t-shirt vendors, and tourists. Hoards of weary, sweltering visitors from around the world take a break from sightseeing, grateful for cool marble floors inside dark air-conditioned museums.
Our little quadrant of the city encompasses much of the historical area frequented by tourists as well as charming neighborhoods with shopping, entertainment, parks, gardens, schools, homes, and families. As I watch children delight in these long, steamy, carefree days before the routine of schools begins, I am reminded of my childhood, many decades ago, in a city 600 miles south of Washington…
Brooks Avenue was an inconsequential place to call home. McMichael’s Grocery, the Rexall drugstore, and a Texaco gas station were at one end of the street and a family bakery at the other. All 22 houses on the one-block-long lane were single story, three bedroom, one bath wooden frame structures with little variation in design. The small yards were typical of an inner city southern neighborhood abounding with fruit trees, boxwood hedges, fragrant gardenia bushes, pink azaleas, and colorful crepe myrtle trees with their characteristic gnarled brown trunks.
Growing up in Atlanta during the post-war baby boom era ensured there was never a shortage of playmates. Elaine McMichael, who was my age, lived two houses from the end of the block. She and I were in the same class but we never became close friends. Elaine was fond of playing with dolls and hosting dress up pretend tea parties. I preferred galloping through flower beds on my invisible golden palomino or playing rough-and-tumble games with our neighbors Danny Crowe, Kerry Sartaine, and my brother Sandy. He and I were barely two years apart but looked enough alike that we were often mistaken for twins.
Sandy’s given name was Robert, the same as our mother’s father, but because of his blonde hair, he was simply known as Sandy. Our older brother was Charles James Jones IV, named for our father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Our baby sister was named Melanie Wilkes after a character in Gone With the Wind. I wasn’t named for anybody. Like Brooks Avenue, I was just ordinary.
The ruthless sun could be merciless during those long, oppressive Atlanta summers. The hottest part of the day found the majority of the neighborhood kids trading their arduous outdoor games for a cooler living room or swaying back and forth in a porch swing hoping to catch a refreshing, fleeting breeze. My refuge from the brutal heat was on the cool branches of an ancient, fragile peach tree.
The sweetest peaches were the ones that had fallen onto the hard Georgia red clay soil that stained clothes and skin alike. I would pick up the ripest peaches, gingerly carrying my precious cargo, as I made my precarious climb up to my idyllic afternoon retreat. An effortless twist of the soft, fuzzy, pink orb released succulent, sticky liquid gold that oozed down my arm and chin.
After the sun completed its western descent and the temperature dropped to an endurable level, Brooks Avenue again came alive with the sound of children playing beneath the glow of the city’s street lights. We played red rover, hide-n-seek, tag, and king-of-the-hill, oblivious to the time until we each heard our father’s whistle.
Every father on Brooks Avenue had his unique whistle which was recognizable by his offspring and nonnegotiable. Those whistles cut through the warm, stagnant air like a scalpel, wordlessly telling each child it was time to stop playing and return home.
By: Deborah Jones Sherwood
Deborah Jones Sherwood is a professional speaker and writer specializing in the history of America’s First Ladies. You can view her website at: http://www.