You did not want to oversleep if you were a kid on summer vacation in 1962. For it was in the still morning air, as the sun hung low in the sky, that the DDT Spray truck would come down the street.
Almost as thrilling as the song of the ice cream man’s jingling bells was the magical sound of a compressor hissing away on the back of a rumbling stake truck, and the squeals of children’s laughter as they gamboled about in that thick, mosquito-killing mist.
“The smoke truck!” they’d yell, disappearing into the cloud on their bicycles. “It’s the smoke truck!”
But even if you’d missed the smoke truck, summer days were still full of fun stuff.
After a nutritious breakfast of Sugar Smacks or Sugar Frosted Flakes or Sugar Pops or Sugar Crisp you’d jump on your bike and head down to the creek. If it was a North Jersey creek, you’d linger by the open pipes along its banks, using Dixie cups to collect all the different colored fluids that came out. Then you’d combine them to make new colors.
Eventually you’d hear your mom calling you to go to the shoe store, and you’d climb into the front seat of the Nash station wagon. You and your brother and sister would stand on the front seat for the whole ride to the shoe store. You’d laugh when your mom hit the brake and your brother ended up beneath the glove box.
At the shoe store you’d take turns having the salesman X-ray your feet in his wooden fluoroscope. He’d let you peer into an eyepiece to see the bones of your brother’s feet wiggling like a Halloween skeleton. When he X-rayed your feet, the back of your mouth would taste like you’d swallowed a penny.
On the way home your mom would buy you a bag of M&Ms. You’d all laugh as the red dye turned your tongue and teeth the color of a vampire’s mouth.
After bath time that night the three of you’d sit on your beds with your shirts off and peel sheets of dead skin from each other’s backs, remembering the sunburns you’d gotten at Asbury Park last weekend. Still, you’d had fun rolling along the Garden State Parkway in the station wagon, facing the open back window, leaning out to wave at all the other kids.
Before bedtime you and your brother would chase each other around the bedroom with your plastic whiffle ball bats and wind up whacking away at the insulation around the hot water pipes that ran to the radiator. And as the insulation would crack open and the little fibers of asbestos would waft through the air like mosquitoes that had eluded the DDT truck, you’d take a deep breath, climb into bed and say your prayers with your mother:
“If I should die before I wake…”