When I was kid, by this time in the summer we had settled into something of a routine. The hectic pace of June and early July—planting a few more things in the big garden my dad always put in (beans, peas, and sweet potatoes, for instance)—had been accomplished. Most of the weeding and hoeing was behind us.
Our feet had adjusted to a shoeless state so that pebbles and sticks no longer caused us to wince in pain. An occasional misstep that jammed a toe into a root or a rock caused a whelp of anguish, and the unpleasant ooze of chicken poop between our toes sent us to the nearest faucet to wash it off.
We had chores—harvesting those peas, beans, sweet corn, tomatoes (lots of tomatoes); and the cantaloupes and watermelons were coming in. We had a large lawn to mow, probably less than an acre, but it seemed bigger with a clunky old push mower. We cut a few yards for relatives and neighbors to earn a little money—we sometimes earned as much as $3 for cutting a big yard. My brother and I split the work and the proceeds.
We set up a roadside stand to sell produce—mostly melons. We charged as much as a dollar for a watermelon and 25 cents for a large cantaloupe; small ones were a dime less.
In the evenings, we shelled peas, snapped beans and watched one of three stations on our black and white TV. Sometimes we fished at night in the creek that ran behind our house. We had about a dozen short poles rigged with strong line and large hooks. We baited these and stuck them in the bank, dangling the bait into the water. We checked every hour or two to see if we had any catfish. When we collected enough, we had a fish fry.
CHIGGERS AND TICKS
We picked blackberries, which mom used for blackberry cobblers and jelly. We scratched chigger bites for days after leaving the thorny berry vines.
About once a summer we camped out. We had a special spot cleared out on the other side of the creek, a flat place with two trees perfectly situated to pitch a tent between. We piled up leaves and pine needles to soften the ground, and spread old quilts or blankets on top. We fished, played in the fire and ate smoky hotdogs. We didn’t sleep. The ground was still too hard, even with the leaves and pine needles, and we had too much adventuring to accomplish to worry much about sleep. The next day we were completely useless, grumpy as setting hens until we had a nap.
For about a week after our camping adventure, we scratched a lot of new chigger bites and the few tick bites that itched even worse.
We plunged into the swimming hole almost every day. The water was cold, deep enough to swim in, and usually clear. A summer storm would roil the water, turn it a reddish brown and keep us out for a day or two. On hot, clear days, we carried a watermelon to the creek with us, put it in the cold water to cool, and busted it on the rocks when we deemed it cold enough to eat.
A DOSE OF RELIGION
We went to church—twice on Sunday and every Wednesday night. It could just be my imagination but Sunday morning sermons in the summer seemed about twice as long as the ones the preacher performed in January. Maybe it had something to do with wearing dressy clothes in a building that would be innocent of air conditioning for another 15 years. We couldn’t move the Gray’s Mortuary fans fast enough to keep the sweat from accumulating on our brows.
And if the minister was in a particularly evangelical mood, he extended the service far beyond noon with verse after verse of the altar call hymn. I still can recite most of “Just as I Am,” in my sleep.
Sunday dinner was typically at my grandmother’s house, where a gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins and sometimes neighbors crowded around a long table to tuck into fried chicken, country ham, more vegetables than you could imagine, and biscuits. Sometimes my granddaddy would go to the ice house and bring back two blocks of ice, which he chipped with an ice pick and put it in the ice cream churn. If in season, peach was a favorite flavor.
We played with our cousins until late afternoon, when we had to go home to get ready for evening services. Seemed a bit more church than necessary at the time, but I probably needed it.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
Most Saturdays we played baseball. Out in the country we didn’t have Little League, but we had church leagues. My brother pitched; I caught—because no one else would. We won as many as we lost.
We didn’t stay inside much. Daytime TV was soap operas and talk shows—“Art Linkletter’s House Party” was a favorite, so we stayed outside. We climbed trees, dammed up small streams, rode bicycles and coasted down the steep hill on the other side of the bridge; we hunted bait, and disappeared from home for hours at a time. We stayed out of trouble—mostly.
We played checkers on rainy days. We read a lot—books from the county library’s Bookmobile, which stopped at nearby country stores about every two weeks. We were rarely bored, and if we were, we knew better than to mention it. Daddy had a list of things to cure boredom.
I loved summertime. I loved the freedom of having most every day open to while away as I wanted. I enjoyed not having to get up early to go to school and sit in a classroom all day. I liked watching old movies on late night TV—which lasted only until midnight, at which time they played the National Anthem and signed off the air.
I loved roaming the woods, snacking on watermelons, swimming in the creek, and playing baseball. Summer was magical. But time was fleeting. By late July, the wonder of being out of school had been replaced by the ominous realization that we would soon have to go back.