When the air begins to hang heavy and the winds diminish, the Sun is unobscured by clouds and the heat hits you when you open the door my thoughts drift often back to those summer times of my youth. School would be out and we kids had almost three full months of relatively free time for our moms to fill. We are already pretty well acclimated to the heat by the end of May because the schools then had no air conditioning. That’s right even in Texas we were expected to endure the horrible discomfort of being hot in class. Each class had one large blow fan up front for the teacher and the front row or so. The really nice teachers would sacrifice and not take any of the fan-borne breezes but would let all reach as many in the class as it could. The windows would be open but that was not much help as all it did usually was let in more hot air unless there happened to be an actual breeze blowing hard. Oh, we certainly were not allowed to wear shorts to school, applied to both boys and girls. The guys were all in the standard uniform of the day, jeans and t-shirts, white. The girls wore mostly sun dresses by late May.
No one then went to camp of any kind. It was pretty much unheard of in the middle class neighborhoods. We and our moms were expected to find our own entertainment and amusement for those long summer days. For the majority of us the only organized activity during summer was Vacation Bible School which was usually in June before the heat became unbearable because not all the churches were air-conditioned either. Yep, big fans again, even in the sanctuary. the various churches would organize miniature parades around the neighborhoods honking horns as a way to promote VBS and the cars would be decorated. VBS was ok for me when I was really small but by about 9 or 10 it began to be a real drag. By that age boys are hard pressed to get much pleasure and excitement out of the arts and crafts we did there. We were too energetic and sitting at the table pasting things together didn’t have much appeal any longer.
Today most of our moms would be considered derelict parents who endangered their children. We would often be off in the neighborhood, actually outside, for hours at at time and under no adult supervision (other than the watchful eye of neighbors which was the unwritten rule of the moms). We all had bikes but the difference then was that we truly used them everyday, all day, of hoofed to our play and activities. We did most of our hard playing in the mornings and late afternoons and even after dinner (which was at 6) to avoid the worst of the heat. After breakfast many days me and a couple of buddies would go the creek nearby. Normally the rule was I had to be home by lunch. First we would powder ourselves all over our legs and arms with the powder sulfur mom kept on the front porch. It would ward off the chiggers and the mosquitoes a little. Those times were terrific. We hunted for anything and everything. Most of us had pocket knives and envisioned ourselves a true Daniel Boones. There were frogs, tadpoles, sometimes minnows or very small white fish and a complete assortment of fossils in the limestone rock that lined the creek bed. I almost always brought something home as a trophy of the exploration. The times that were slower was when I had to take my little brother who was 4 years my junior. A 7-year-old is a real drag to an 11-year-old especially when you know it is your fault if he gets hurt and comes home telling on you for being “mean”. Poor guy he probably didn’t like himself and mom got him his own friends as much as she could.
Most days we would also go bike riding. Yeah, just riding our bikes all around the neighborhood looking for whatever 11-year-old boys think is interesting. Up and down the alleys looking for figs to pick even though I hated the taste of them. When it is 103 outside you can burn up a lot of calories and energy riding a bike for a couple of hours. We would have races and play a bike version of ice hockey in the streets with brooms an any kind of can or ball that came to hand.
Almost everyone had trees in their yards. I had a really big elm tree in my back yard. A few days a week we would go out there and climb the tree and take our bb guns. We would shoot at leaves, toy soldiers we sit on the ground, ant mounds and anything else that struck our eye. We often played WWII using the bb guns as cannon or rifles, they were very versatile that way. Even though the Korean War was on it didn’t have the magic or allure of the -War. And the grownups sure didn’t view it the same way they did the War. We could waste an entire afternoon in those trees but we loved it even though mom constantly told us to not climb higher than one particular limb but we did almost every time.
We would swim but then the swimming pools were pretty small affairs and located on almost every elementary playground. The gym teach would earn extra money teaching swimming during the summer but there were also free times to swim. It was free then. Covered by school taxes. Today I am sure it would be considered a liability hazard for the school system. It was several blocks away and we walked or rode our bikes. The moms didn’t take us and pick us up like would happen today. For one thing almost no family was a two car family then. It was relatively unusual for two cars per house then. We had two but only because dad drove an old International Harvester pick up truck for work that he got to bring home. Most dads took the family car to work in the morning and brought it home at night or the mom drove him to work and picked him up.
Just warming up to those days,,,,,maybe we’ll talk baseball, kick the can, bat catching and bow making another time.
My child hood was blessed with wonderful parents. The lessons and underpinning of a good childhood by good parents are your strength in later life with challenged by the inevitable vicissitudes. It is an endless well of restoring waters to draw from. Count yourself fortunate if that was your experience. God bless one and all.
“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the same privilege to do so too.” Voltaire. olcranky.wordpress.com