Schuckman: Listening to “Summer Nights” brings back memories of great neighborhood, better friends

Summer Nights

QUINCY — Most nights, while sitting in front of my laptop in my home office searching for inspiration in my writing or working out the kinks on a project or a plan, I’ll play music in the background.

It ignites my creativity and brings my thoughts into focus in a way a quiet never does.

Those who know me well, can guess what I’m listening to eight times out 10. Van Halen, Bob Seger, Metallica and ’80s bands are all in the usual rotation. Some nights it may be country or Billy Joel. Occasionally, rap or hip-hop finds its may into the mix, especially if it’s Coolio or Nelly.

Mostly, it’s classic rock. This night, I went back to the old standby — Van Halen.

My favorite band for four decades has never disappointed, and listening to the “5150” album, which was the first with Sammy Hagar as the lead singer, I found the inspiration I needed in my favorite of the nine tracks on the album.

“Summer Nights.”

Coming off Memorial Day weekend, which is the unofficial start of summer, it made me reminisce on the nights in the neighborhood playing wiffle ball until dark, chasing fireflies and begging our parents to let us play under the street lights until our bedtime beckoned.

Not only was I blessed to grow up as the youngest of six siblings, which meant I had two older brothers to teach me things I should and shouldn’t have known, but our neighborhood featured some of the best people I have ever known.

Life has taken us in a myriad of directions — to central Illinois and Chicago, to Oregon and North Carolina, even to places we’d rather not be — but the memories are as vivid now as the day we made them.

So many of them revolve around sports.

Backyard wiffle ball games. Shooting baskets on a hoop attached to the back of a garage. Racing up and down the alley. Kicking balls into the backyard of an old neighbor who would yell at us for running onto his grass and threaten to keep the ball.

All of that happened on one square block.

The further you ventured out, the more there was to do and more people to do it with. We played basketball on Duncan’s court, tennis in South Park and baseball at Johnson Park. We splashed in the creek running through South Park and fished in its ponds. We swam at the Indian Mounds swimming pool and camped out in each other’s backyards.

Tire swings hung from trees. We built ramps for our bikes. We drank Kool-Aid from the pitchers our moms set outside the backdoor for us and ate popsicles by the dozens. We rode our bikes to Modern Dairy to buy baseball cards and then traded them before sticking some in our bike spokes. We tried to catch bats flying into the steeple of a nearby church.

We learned from each other and our older brothers to be adventurous and competitive and tough, even if we weren’t. You had to act like you were or at the very least fake it.

Those days are gone, but hearing “Summer Nights” by Van Halen brings them back to life.

So thank you Matt and Mike Garner and Marty and Brian Meade, thank you Pat Berter and Corey Loos, thank you Danny Kramer and David Nichols, thank you Scott and Todd Aschemann, thank you to the Zopfs, the Johnsons, the Potts, the Hesslings and the Sparrows.

Thank you for making our neighborhood the memory machine it is today. There is not another place I would have preferred to grow up.

And every time I hear “Summer Nights,” I think of our house at 935 Monroe and the joy it gives me to continue to call those who grew up nearby friends all these years later.

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