summertime when you and I were kids? Back before ipads and cell phones? Before any of us heard of Xbox and only the rich neighbor kid had “Pong”? When there was no Netflix and HBO was a channel that would merit a whipping from Mama if she so much as heard that you had looked at “that filth”.
Yep, summertime was the best of times. Our shoes came off when the bus dropped us off after the last day of school and only came back on when Mama made us wear shoes to church on Sunday. By late August, the soles of our feet were so tough we could walk on hot asphalt, run through sticker patches picking blackberries as we went, popping them in our mouth and played street ball barefoot. Our hair grew out long and slapped us in the face as we rode our bikes faster than God-only-knows down a hill and across an intersection where one of us stood front and center looking for cars. Those banana seat bikes that Daddy had duct taped the seats again and again had hundreds of miles on them. No one had ever heard or seen such a thing as a bike helmet. We had as much fear as we had sense.
Usually the first few days of summer were spent at the pool where our noses and shoulders would blister. Daddy would put vinegar on our burned shoulders and tell us it would take the sting out. We would peel for days and finally our noses and entire faces were covered in summertime freckles.
Mama usually had us fed and chores done by ten o clock and promptly locked us out of the house for the rest of the day while she sat in the breeze from the fan, sewing summer dresses for all four of us, all the while listening to her record player play Johnny Mathis or 16 Singing Men. She saved the fabric scraps in a bag that would be our supply of material for endless Barbie clothes. Meanwhile, we were in the trees building a fort, which would be our ship where we sailed the seven seas, or maybe our cabin on the prairie and we were Mary or Laura Ingalls. We played war in the woods and many battles were fought and won…or lost depending on the equity of the teams that were comprised by the rag tag neighbor kids.
At lunch time, Mama unlocked the back door and brought out a melmac plate which held peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and slightly stale Cheetos with red Tupperware cups of Koolaid. Sometimes the neighbor kids would join us or we would eat with them depending on whose mom was supplying cookies. The hose out back was our source of drinks of water and even today when it’s hot and I hear a sprinkler, I can taste the rubberized warm water from those days.
We played kickball in the street and sometimes rode our bikes all over creation collecting Coke bottles from ditches. When we found enough and could hold no more, we made our way down the hill to the little white store where an old man with stained brown teeth from years of chewing tobacco would count out ten dimes for the ten bottles we brought him. We in turn would carefully select candy treasures like Mary Janes, Bit-o-honeys, pixie sticks and Bazooka gum. My sister had an affinity for candy cigarettes and we would climb back up in the tree and enjoy a “smoke” with an air of sophistication that only a sweaty eight year old can supply.
When it was so hot that it was not safe for child nor animal Mama would load us up in the Dodge Dart with all four windows down and head to the library. We would wander up and down the aisles of the children’s section letting the frigid blast from the window unit give us a chill as we got lost in the wonder of another world. We would lay on out stomachs and read books like “The Littles” or “Ramona Quimby” or “The Boxcar Children”, while Mama and our big sisters looked for Grace Livingston Hill romances. Sometimes I can go back there, the smell of musty pages and the hum of the old air conditioner and the quiet, the serene quiet where even us kids knew to whisper.
After supper, when the last plate was washed and dried by our hands we would be out the door for the last hour or so before bed. Dusk would bring mosquitoes in droves that consumed our legs, leaving welts that we would scratch all night long. We didn’t seem to mind as we caught lightning bugs in recycled pickle jars or played one last game of freeze tag with the neighbor kids.
Finally, Mama called us for the last time and she didn’t have to say “This is the last time” we could tell in the way we were called by our first and middle names. She had a bath drawn and all of us piled in washing a days worth of sweat and dirt and summertime from us. We fell asleep exhausted from adventures of far away places we created in our imagination, from riding endless miles on our bikes or running further on bare feet. Under the hum of an attic fan and the soft breeze from an open window we slept and dreamed and grew and learned and loved our beloved summerdays.
We never knew that it was too hot to be outside, or that it would increase our test scores if we reviewed math through the summer. We didn’t watch too much TV because why would you sit inside? We would have thought it strange to stay indoors when God had provided us the most wonderful thing a child could experience….a summer day..