Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer Days Past

Well, Memorial Day has passed and summer is finally here.  I don't know why but I've always considered summer to be official only after Memorial Day weekend.  Around here, most kids have already been out of school for a week or two.  We live on a street with a cul-de-sac and there are kids living in almost every house.  We love our sweet, little neighborhood but I can't help but notice that kids don't stay outside like we used to when we were young.  Of course, I see an occasional bicycle roll down the street or hear the faint bouncing of a basketball but they certainly don't reside outside like we did. It was almost like our job to be outside all day.  Only hopeless bookworms and kids who had fever were inside on a summer's day. 

On the typical summer weekday, I'd stagger out of my room around 9:00, greeted by my mother who was anxious to get us, kids, outside so she could commence with the house cleaning.  She'd get the bowl of made-from-scratch pancake batter from the fridge and melt the butter in the iron skillet.  I'd get out the Mrs. Butterworth syrup and tub of margarine then go put on my cut off jean shorts and pom pom socks while she finished cooking breakfast.  If it was a particularly busy day for her, she'd set out the box of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and I'd pray the submarine prize would fall out into my bowl but, with two brothers, that rarely happened.  Anyway, on the days that she was on top of her game, she'd call us all to the kitchen where she'd fry up pancakes until we'd had enough.  By that time, I was hooked on the episode of Card Sharks playing on the TV and Mama would fix my hair into either a ponytail or pigtails while I watched to see who was going to win so I could move along with my day.

After Card Sharks, the Price is Right would start calling people to come on down and that seemed to be my mother's cue to have everyone vacate the house for the day.  It was like a fire alarm.  The Price is Right theme music meant "EVERYONE OUT!  MAMA'S GOTTA CLEAN!" If you were still in there when the Cliff Hanger yodeling started, you'd be assigned chores. 

With a full stomach, we headed outside into the Mississippi sun knowing we'd been evicted for the day.  By then, there was a small gathering of kids forming in the street.  A brief meeting was held as the crowd grew.  We'd kick the gravel on the road and break sticks as we discussed all the possibilities that the day held.  Country Jay, wiffle ball, baseball using a tennis ball, kickball, hide and seek, bicycle obstacle courses, fishing, fort building.  I don't know why but we always seemed to follow the sports seasons.  Basketball and football were reserved only for the fall and winter months.  Anyway, each possibility was carefully debated until one or two rose to the top.  I mean, we were going to need some careful planning to fill all the humid hours ahead and it usually required a patchwork of activities to get us all the way to the end of it. 

Baseball/fishing/bicycle follow the leader was always a popular combo.  Fishing was usually better in the morning so that was a good lead off activity.  We'd break up and everybody would head home to get their poles with instructions to grab some white bread from the Sunbeam bag while they were there.

Not to limit ourselves to just one bait, we'd dig for a few worms under the pine straw mound that Daddy kept down by the back fence.  The black dirt under that straw was a popular hangout for the long, slimy things. With black dirt under our fingernails and a can of doomed worms, we'd climb the barbed wire fence over into the adjoining pasture where the neighbors had a small pond.  On any given day, a couple of us would be left with long, bloody scratches down the back our legs from the rusty barbs but we couldn't be worried about lock jaw and things like that because the crabapple tree was just over the fence and they were the Sour Patch Kids of our time.  We'd stuff our cut off shorts pockets with the little sour gems and head to the pond.

The boys usually used the worms for bait because, while the girls didn't mind digging for worms, stabbing them with a hook was another thing altogether.  We'd use the white bread and toss our hooks in the water.  After an hour or so of catching various forms of small fish, we'd head back to see what else we could find to do.  Sometimes, a stop by the railroad tracks to lay out coins on the tracks before the train was scheduled to come by was in order.  We'd go back and collect the flattened currency after it had passed.  Children playing on train tracks must have been commonplace back in the 70's.  I guess our parents assumed we had enough common sense to know if a train was coming, we should get out of the way.  I guess they were right.   

By this time of day, it was usually humid and the southern sun was hotter than a $2 pistol as my Daddy used to say.  I'd usually run in the house to get a little drink before the gang got started on another activity.  Mama was usually vacuuming at this point with The Young and the Restless playing in the background so she'd shoo us away and bring a glass of Kool-Aid or sweet tea to the door. They weren't the most generous portions but we were warned if we went overboard on the drinks, we'd ruin our lunch.  Oh, the air conditioning felt so good from the door.....if only we were allowed to stay in and enjoy it.  But, there was cleaning still to do and the house hadn't yet reached an adequate saturation level of Pine-Sol fumes so we were sent on our way and told that she'd call us when it was time for lunch.

Lunch usually came after The Young and the Restless went off because, well, you didn't want the house full of loud kids when you were trying to see what was going on in Genoa City with Nicki and Victor.  This was about the time that Katherine Chancellor was presumed dead in the tragic fire so missing a day was not an option.  Now, thanks to me, my mother's Sunday School class knows that she watched a soap opera in the 70's and early 80's and for that I'm sorry.  I'm sure they'll extend mercy.     

Since there usually wasn't enough time for another lengthy activity before lunch, we'd all agree to play something like Follow the Leader on our bicycles.  Somebody would be selected as the leader usually through a process of eeny, meeny, miny, moe or something terribly sophisticated like that.  The leader would hop on her bike and we'd all follow.  She'd take her hands off the handlebars for a while.....and so would we.  She'd zigzag from one side of the street to the other .....and we would, too.  She'd pop a wheelie.  We'd pop a wheelie.  She'd ride off the side of a driveway and jump a ditch and we were right behind her.  The fact that nothing stood between our delicate heads and the pavement only made the game more exciting.  We looked like Hell's Angels all lined up in a row with the roar of playing cards flapping in our spokes.  Banana seats and streamers and fluorescent bike flags as far as the eye could see.

About the time we'd be getting tired of that, we'd hear Mama yelling for us to come have lunch.  It usually consisted of a hot dog or a fried bologna sandwich with chips, apple, and a piece of pound cake or a couple of duplex sandwich cookies.  By that time of day, there was nothing that appealed to us on TV so, after we'd eaten and gotten cooled off, we'd head back out.  The other kids would trickle back out from their peanut butter and jelly buffets and we'd usually decide to get together a game of kickball or whiffle ball.  Captains were usually selected by drawing straws or picking a number between 1 and 20 and then the draft would begin.  Of course, the older, bigger boys would go in the first round which included my older brother, Zane.  And while I don't like to brag, I went pretty early in the draft considering I weighed 70 pounds soaking wet and my arms looked like you could snap them like a twig.  Players were picked, one by one, until it was down to the tiniest, most uncoordinated of the neighbors......but there was a place for everyone in the backyard league.   

At this point in the day, most of us were barefooted.  Shoes were only for climbing barbed wire fences and pedaling ten speed bikes with the spiky pedals.  The side yard between our house and the neighbors' house was a popular ball field because of its length, width, and overall turf quality.  The bases were usually the bare spots worn in the grass from their continual use while home plate was always the water meter cover.  We'd play for innings and innings.  We'd move in when one of the kids with two left feet came to bat and we'd back up when it was one of the older boy's turn.  And if someone hit the ball out into the woods, we'd all go tromping through the brush to help find it. 

We always had the rule that you could get someone out, not just by catching, tagging, or forced outs, but also by pegging them with the wiffle ball/kickball in the head as hard as you could......or anywhere else on their body.  This only added to the allure of the game.  There was the occasional timeout called when someone would step on a sticker bush or, heaven forbid, a fresh pile of dog excrement.  Of course, rules were usually made up as we went along to fit the circumstances.  Like if the score was really lopsided, we'd declare that all the big boys had to bat left-handed or something like that. 

Sometimes, later in the day, we'd splinter off and do things in smaller groups.  If we were thirsty and Mama was mopping, we might get a drink from the hose.  If the coast was clear, I'd go in to cool off for a minute with a pudding pop but then I'd be ready to find the others and climb trees, play board games on the carport, run through somebody's sprinkler, play croquet, or find a swing set that we could make one of the legs pop up out of the ground when we'd swing really high.  I knew if I stayed inside too long, I'd be handed a rag and a can of Pledge and I wasn't real interested in that.   

We'd play until the sun started to go down.  The crickets started chirping.  The frogs started singing.  The mosquitos would begin nibbling on my skinny legs and, in the distance, we'd hear our Daddy whistle.  He had this loud, two-part whistle that the three of us recognized as our call home.  It didn't matter how far away we were, we could hear it and it meant it was supper time.  We'd pedal as fast as we could to a big supper of fried chicken, roast and gravy, or, sadly, sometimes, the dreaded salmon croquettes.  We had to get fed, bathed, take in an episode of The Waltons or Barnaby Jones, and then get some rest because, well, the next day, we had to to do it all over again.

And we couldn't wait.

Eric, David, Jennifer, Annabelle, Jeff, another Jeff, Paul, Ronald, Melissa, Stacy, Rush, Marsha, Michael, Suzy, Mike, Ken,Wesley.....and, of course, Zane, Lee, and Joni.  We had some good times on our little street.

Here's to summer days past.

Y'all have a good one.....and tell the kids to go out and play! 

It's not so bad out there. 






  1. My goodness, you pretty much described my childhood in the 60s. Playing with the neighborhood kids all day. Played boardgames and cards, reading books from the library. Good times:).
    Mom made alot of Kool aid popsicles too!
    A wonderful post Joni,
    Kathleen in Az

    1. Yes, I forgot about board games! Everybody would bring theirs out and we'd put them in a big stack and play them all....the whole stack!

  2. Yeah! We had to play outside all the time, too! Fun memories!

    1. We wouldn't have had it any other way, would we, Deanna? So much fun :)

  3. Love this! It sounds so much like the summer days I remember!

    1. Good memories, Ging! And we had three whole months out of school, too. It was a looooooong summer. :)

  4. Sigh - those are the best days.

    1. They were, weren't they, Missy June? Wouldn't trade those memories for anything.