Although summer officially came a week ago, I always think of summer as beginning on the first of June, a time when we were finally through with school. Because I lived by my grandparents’ farm, my siblings, cousins and I spent much of our time running free. Back in those days no one worried about child molesters or kidnappers. Traffic wasn’t as heavy as it is today, either. And there was no TV until I was in my teens, and certainly no cell phones.
Sometimes we hiked back to a stream that ran under a train trestle where the water was deep enough to go swimming, but not deep enough to drown. We stopped going there when I discovered leaches all over my legs. Most of our swimming was done at Eagle Creek or another swimming place north of us when we could talk my father into taking us. We piled into the car sitting on each other’s laps when it got too full. Sometimes my Aunt and Uncle went, too, so more kids including some neighborhood kids could go, too.
There was a stream that went through my grandparents’ farm, too, but most of the time it was shallow and some septic tanks drained into it. However, one spring when it flooded, we took an old barn door out there and floated down the stream on it. Another time we took our grandfather’s boat without permission and paddled down the stream. As I remember it, we were in trouble for taking something without asking.
|An old picture of some of my cousins|
One summer my brother, Jerry, and our cousins, Norman and Dolores, built a club house out of scrapped of lumber we gathered up. It was no larger than a rather small kitchen table. The boys did the sawing, hammering and nailing while Dolores and I handed them the tools and nails. When we finished it we loaded it on a red wagon, which shows you that it wasn’t very large, and we hauled it across the road and back on a farm track to the woods. The boys took turns pulling and Dolores and I pushed. We had water in an empty peanut butters jar, and the boys drank most of it because they said they were working harder. I remember the water had a definite taste of peanut butter. We put our club house under a line of trees next to a wide path and across from the woods we played in. The four of us barely fit in and, of course, we couldn’t stand up. Because Dolores and I loved Roy Rogers, we put up a poster of him for decoration. The following day we found Roy Rogers with a black mustache and beard. We were so upset, but our brothers thought it was funny. It wasn’t too many days later when a neighbor boy set fire to our clubhouse and almost set the whole woods on fire. Fire trucks came and the fire was put out before it did much more damage than totally destroy our club house. The boy had wanted to be in our club, and we turned down because he was always in trouble, and there was no room for him anyway. I remember reading in the newspaper years later that he went to prison for murdering someone.
I remember my Uncle Zeke, one of my father’s many brothers, taking my brother and I to some place north to pick blackberries several summers. It was before he married and had kids of his own. It was sort of fun, but also hot. My mother made blackberry jam with the blackberries we picked, and that was good.
Summer time also meant there were the county fairs. Mostly our grandfather took Jerry and me to the Geauga Fair north of us. He’d give us each fifty cents to spend, and often we spent it all on the games like throwing a ball to knock down the wooden milk jugs, or trying to fish out a yellow duck to see if we’d get a prize. Grandpa always bought us cotton candy or some other treat to eat, too. One of the things we liked was watching the horse and the two wheeled sulky races on the fairground track.
Other things I remember were playing softball evenings at our neighbor’s house. I was and probably still am horrible at the game. Still I almost always made it to first base because when I hit the ball it didn’t go very far in front of me so I could make it to first base before the pitcher or catcher could get the ball. What I lacked in batting and throwing skills, I made up for by being a very fast runner in those days. Other games we played were kick the can and hide & go seek, and as I grew older, the neighbor girls often came over and we played Monopoly or Canasta afternoons.
When the sweet corn ripened on my grandparents’ farm, a table was set up near the road to sell sweet corn. I didn’t sell it often, but my brother Jerry did and cousin Norman. Grandpa preferred having Jerry sell rather than our older male cousins because there was always more money for Grandpa when Jerry sold than when the cousins. Obviously, they helped themselves to the money.
There was a hollow old willow tree behind my grandparents’ house, and on summer afternoons I’d often climb up in it with a book to read in a wide crouch of the tree where people didn’t notice me, and where it was quite comfortable. I loved climbing trees. In fact, once I climbed almost to the top of a maple tree back by the woods and when I tried to go higher, the branch didn’t hold me, and I bounced all the way down to the ground. Fortunately I didn’t get hurt.
Sometimes on summer evenings, we’d camp out. One day Norman, Dolores, Jerry and I put up my grandfathers’ large canvas tent across the road from the farm house with plans to sleep in it that night. One of us looked out to see Grandpa and my dad coming down the lane towards the tent. Dad had a hand behind his back. Worried we were in trouble, we crawled out. My dad asked, “Who told you that you could put up the tent?” He was scowling. One of us said, “Grandma.” Then Dad brought his hand out with a gallon of ice cream and told the four of us to come home for ice cream. Ice cream was a real treat in those days. That night we slept out and I remember scaring my younger brother and cousins with some spooky ghost stories, even Norman who was a year or two older than I was.
Other evenings my cousins Sally and Judy, who lived a quarter of a mile away, would camp out in their back yard. After their parents were asleep, we’d sneak off and do naughty things like turn
over a neighbor’s lawn chairs, and once we went up to the corner bar across from the Presbyterian Church and looked in and then ran off giggling.
Summers also meant almost every Sunday, my mother’s sister, Aunt Millie and Uncle John Kapp along with the four Kapp kids and my three siblings and me, went on a picnic. Every Sunday, either my mom or her sister would take delicious fried chicken while the other took ham. They also alternated between who would bring the baked beans or potato salad and a pie or cupcakes.
We always had cold drinks like lemonade or Kool-Aide. Sometimes we’d head for Lake Erie, sometimes to Warner’s Hollow, or any number of other places. Sometimes to an amusement park if it was when where my dad or uncle worked had a day planned there. We always stopped on the way home at some little park in the middle of a town or village with picnic tables, swings and sliding boards to eat what was left of our picnic lunch for supper. We traveled far and wide in our Buicks – no SUV’s then – and once when we were hungry and were lost on some country road in Pennsylvania, we ate next to a pretty stream in a cow pasture.
When we were teenagers, my brother bought an old Model A or Model T, I forget which, and had it towed home. He managed to get it running, but he was too young to get a driver’s license, so he drove it all over Grandpa’s farm with our cousins and me either inside or hanging on to the car from the running board. He was a crazy driver speeding and turning in sharp circles. Once my cousin Sally fell off and the back wheel ran over her foot, but fortunately it didn’t break any bones.
|My brother and me climbing trees.|
We didn’t have all the things that today’s kids have, but somehow I feel we were lucky that we had the freedom to explore and enjoy the simple life.
What do you remember about summers when you were young?