(This article was published in the Spanish magazine Interviu, August, 2001.)
"Write about the most fantastic summer of your life," the editor of Interviu requested. Whoa. That's not an assignment for me, I thought. I've had some great summers. But...fantastic?
Then I remembered the summer of 1947.
Late in 1946 I had been released from the United States Army. I had spent the last year of World War II as an infantryman within the continental United States, and the first year of the peace in a boring, unheroic office job at the Presidio of San Francisco, grateful that I had never had to kill a human being. When I was discharged I returned to my hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, and by the following spring my closest friends also had been separated from military service and had come home. Eddie Plotkin had been a sailor on a destroyer in the South Pacific. Charlie Ritz had been in the army of occupation in Germany. Irving Cooper had lived in a tent with the Air Force in Korea.
We had been close for many years, growing up together from early childhood. In many ways we were still boys and not men, although for a period we had lived intimately with the possibility that we would face a man's death. Eddie had come home with malaria, but we were members of the most fortunate military generation of the war, entering service precisely late enough to escape widespread harm.
Peace had brought a new lightness to our universe, a giddy gladness almost palpable. The threat of destruction had been removed from millions of lives all over the planet, and in our naivete we hoped that reason and nonviolence had at last come to the Earth.
All four of us would spend our lives working hard, but we decided that we owed ourselves a glorious summer as new civilians. Eddie bought an ancient car, a black 1936 Ford roadster. A talented mechanic, he used block and tackle to remove the old motor and replace it with a new one. We all loved the old car, which had a rumble seat that I claimed as my own territory. One weekend when we went to Nantasket Beach I forgot that one of the features of the rumble seat was the hole in the floor, so I was unconcerned when I pushed off my shoes. They dropped through the hole somewhere between Worcester and the seacoast, and that weekend I went happily barefoot.
We had little money, the bulk of our capital being a twenty-dollar bill carried by Irving, our treasurer. That evening we were in a sandwich shop, where Irving became transfixed by the utter gorgeousness of the waitress behind the counter. He spent a long time talking with her raptly, gazing into her eyes, nervously folding our twenty dollars into smaller and smaller squares, until it was the size of a pea. Finally, mesmerized, he put his middle finger behind the ball of his thumb and flicked the banknote. It sailed over the counter, dropped into the sink, bounced once like a winning golf shot, and dropped neatly to disappear down the open drain.
That night my shoeless feet were cold as we slept on the beach, fortunate to have enough money left for gasoline that would take us home.
The seacoast was 50 miles from our city, and obviously we required a playground closer to Worcester. We found it at Lake Quinsigamond. Named for the Indian tribe that once had lived on its shores, the lake was clean and beautiful. Pooling our meager funds, we were able to rent a lakeside shack, ever afterward known as The Cottage. The development puzzled our parents, who grumbled that we had all been away from home for so long, one would think we would want to stay at home more with our families. But The Cottage had everything we needed: several rooms with doors that closed, and a tap that gave good cold water. There was a small wooden dock. Beneath it lived a muskratwhich we called "the water rat." Its periodic emergence terrified us and lent the spice of nonexistent danger to our swimming, as if we were braving shark-filled waters.
All that wonderful summer we renewed the bonds of our long friendship, cooked outside, fished, and swam. Grey mist on the water, copper sun on the water, lemon moonlight on the water, beer kept cold in a mesh bag suspended from the dock. Irving taught us the Korean national anthem. Whenever we met a pretty girl, we invited her to The Cottage for a dip. One evening I was broke and wanted to take a girl out. So I wrote out a promissory note. In return for 10 dollars, I promised Edward Plotkin sole rights to any future story written by Noah Gordon, of Eddie's choosing. Eddie read the IOU and, a good friend full of faith in me, took it and gave me the ten bucks. (Years later, after The Rabbi [El Rabino] became a bestseller, Eddie and I went to dinner and he sold the IOU back to mefor ten dollars.)
The summer of 1947 passed too quickly, the last time we would be so carefree and undisciplined after a period of too much discipline and too many cares.
Incredibly and wonderfully, 54 years later the four of us are still the closest of friends. I dedicated my novel Shaman (Chaman) to them and our wives. The other three men are retired. Charlie had an exercise club, Eddie owned a furniture store, and Irving founded two accounting firms. We are all grandfathers now. We see each other regularly, sharing joys and sorrows, going out with our womenfolk or often just meeting as four men for a drink, a meal, and a continuation of our long companionship. Sometimes we smile to remember the reunion summer of 1947.
Back when we were children who imagined we had been warriors.
Back when the countries of the planet were still licking their bloody wounds.
Back when, in moments of innocence, it was possible to imagine a world that could remain at peace.