When I was a child, I always found January and February to be the bleakest times of the year, with blustery March not much better. Time spent outdoors was often bitterly cold, while time indoors was likely to be bitterly boring, as I sat at a small, scarred school desk and wished I could be somewhere else. Tortured by the agony of long division or diagramming sentences, I could hardly bear the thought of how many hours remained till the end of the school day, let alone how many school days till the end of May or how many Mays till the end of twelve years. Things were not much better at home, where I either had chores outside or homework inside. Darkness would fall too soon for any outdoor games.
The only thing that made the slowly passing eons bearable was to dream of what was to come later. In April I could go barefooted, both around the farm and at school. Only church attendance would require shoes. By the beginning of May, the soles of my feet would be so tough that even the plentiful sandspurs on the school grounds would be only a minor annoyance, while the gravel-strewn playfield would be no problem at all.
Along with the freedom of bare feet, balmy April weather would bring widespread marble games at recess. The hard-bitten regulars at the game, those unsmiling, pinch-faced boys with blackened knuckles and thumbnails with holes worn in the center by countless marble shots would have been honing their skills even in rough weather, and now they were ready to take on all comers, sweeping the hastily drawn circles in the dirt clean of opponents' aggies and such. Bush league shooters such as I were mere onlookers, no more tempted to challenge them than a jelly fish would be inclined to take on a shark.
May would bring a variety of made-up games during school recess, games that often included make-believe warfare with mock guns, a reflection of the World War II atmosphere and ignored if not actually sanctioned by school authorities. On weekends, my older brother and I, sometimes joined by two brothers from a couple of miles away, would play baseball. It's not an easy game to play with so few participants. And when the bat is made from a scrap lumber and the ball made with a small rock painstakingly wrapped with yards of twine saved through the year for just such a purpose, wrapped tightly and skillfully until acceptably round and then covered with a couple of layers of black friction tape. Primitive, we realized full well, but great fun nonetheless.
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Late spring and early summer was also the time when we could slip down to the branch, as large as some creeks, that ran through the woods below the barn, and fish for horny-heads and perch with small pin-hooks baited with a bit of bread from a biscuit. When field work was done, or during the dinner break, my brother and I were free to roam and explore across miles of virtual wilderness, and it was all greatly rewarding. The fishing was especially fun, but even better as the temperature increased was alleged swimming in a hole we'd engineered in the same branch a half a mile upstream. At the deepest spot, the water had a depth of no more than two feet, but we, and our two friends, considered it superb.
Despite my worst fears, twelve years of public school finally passed, followed by a torrent of additional years. Now the doldrums of the first three months of the year have no basis in fact for me. If the weather is too cold or blustery, I can be happy in a warm house, relaxed in a recliner with a good book and with two dogs on my lap to keep me company. Other distractions are available, at home or elsewhere, so there is no need to be depressed. Still, the habit is engrained, just as retirement doesn't stop you from looking forward with pleasure to Saturday and vaguely dreading Monday. So there is still that faint longing for spring and summer, for fishing holes and swimming holes, for homemade baseball games and for a friendly game of marbles.
Actually, I think I could still shoot marbles, even if not with the skills of the sharpies I used to watch with awe. I'd need to find a level spot on the dirt to draw the circle, and an opponent who's skill didn't overmatch mine. I could kneel on the ground with him and wage a pleasurable contest. Of course, he'd have to be able to help me back up at the end of the game.
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."