I spent the summer of our nation’s bicentennial in the swimming pool. When not floating around on a Styrofoam chair in my own pool, I was over at Alicia’s doing cannonballs off the diving board.
Alicia’s family had an in-ground pool, a much coveted luxury in our neighborhood, plus she had the added bonus of being an only child. Trish and I greatly preferred swimming over there to suffering a swim with our brothers and their noisy, creepy gang of friends. Never mind that Alicia was younger than us. We were all kids. It didn’t matter.
Those endless summer days dawned sunny and bright. I can’t ever remember it raining during the summer of ’76, although surely it must have. Every morning we were up with the sun, antsy to get outside and into the water. I’d shimmy into an eggshell blue bikini with “Shake Your Booty” emblazoned across my rear and dash out the door, wriggling into an Andy Gibb t-shirt as I made my way down the hill and up the street toward Alicia’s. Trish and Alicia lived across the street from one another, their driveways in eternal face-off, and Alicia’s mom counted on me and Trish to keep an eye on Alicia during the day. We weren’t babysitting, as we considered Alicia our peer, and we earned no pay. Being poolside every day was payment enough.
We lived in the water with the radio blasting--the dial permanently set to WEBN. We had swimming races to the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Hall & Oates, played water volleyball to Fleetwood Mac, practiced our backflips to Boston. We dashed around the slippery edges, oblivious to danger, chasing each other with coiled wet towels while CSN&Y’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” blared out across the humid breeze. We’d ricochet off the diving board, our squeals of glee echoing around the block as the water exploded, sizzling, upon the baked concrete.
We tanned brown as biscuits, our hair a sun-bleached glossy white, and our ears gurgled with pool water sounding forever like moths frantically beating their wings against eardrums with each tilt of the head. We paraded across the clover-covered lawn wrapped in tatty Wonder Woman beach towels, laughing long and hard, doubling over, gasping for breath and suddenly needing to pee.
We would race across the street to Trish’s house for a bathroom break, then to mine for orange popsicles, the blacktop hissing hot and bubbly under our bare feet as we ran. Alicia’s mom always locked the house when she went to work, leaving Alicia to the mercy and goodwill of her friends. None of us ever gave it a second thought. That’s just the way it was.
Those scorching poolside days introduced us to bands that shaped our budding youth, and although our interest in them waned with the passing years, we never loved them more than we did in the summer of ’76.
Boston's epic first album was the soundtrack to that halcyon summer of blue, cloudless skies and shimmering heat mirages. Sometimes we caught “More Than a Feeling” on WEBN a dozen times a day, crackling out of the Realistic stereo that Alicia’s dad had installed in their Tiki bar at the side of the pool. We couldn’t get enough of that song and would have happily listened to nothing else given the chance. As each day bloomed brighter and hotter than the one before, so did our love for the band. We knew all the lyrics, and joyfully belted them out whenever the song came on. I got the 8-track through Columbia House Record Club and we played it on repeat so many times that the songs became muddied and warbled, the plastic casing puckering in the sticky heat.
The summer of ’76 was the last one we had as carefree, happy-go-lucky kids. We were invincible, inseparable and believed our heroes immortal. We assumed that life would march merrily along exactly the same as it did that last perfect summer. We had no idea that we were on the cusp of change, with puberty lurking stealthily around the corner, ready to pounce with acne, low self-esteem, heartbreak and loss of innocence.
And the heartbreak continues today for the loss of Brad Delp, lead singer of the band that gave us the soundtrack to our most idyllic, blissful summer.
“I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away…”
Has it really been 31 years since the Summer of '76?