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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Memories of Summers Past

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.

My mother with one of my younger sisters and me at a picnic.
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?


Kait said...

Glorious story! With farms in my childhood background summer memories hold a special place. I remember the smell of wet earth and new shoots, That dusty wonderful smell of hay just before mowing and the sweet smell of corn when it's ready to pick. One of my biggest childhood treats was pulling an ear from the stalk and eating it right out in the field. Nothing sweeter.
Then there were tree houses and rafts to build (the rafts never did float long). I hope kids today are storing their own idyllic memories.

Gloria Alden said...

Kait, so wonderful to read about your memories on the farm. My sons built tree houses in both places we lived. My daughters were younger, but I know they had their own memories. I could have wrote on and on about different childhood memories, but it would have made the blog too long.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, free to ride my bike to the library and spend the day reading in air-conditioned comfort. Y camp in the Poconos, family vacations at my grandparents' Cape Cod cottage. Dad and I grew melons, raspberries and tomatoes.

I remember waking every morning with the blissful realization that other than chores, I was free to spend my day exactly as I wished.

I tried to give that gift of unscheduled time to my own kids during the summer, though they did have to read to earn their TV time.

Gloria Alden said...

Margaret, it sounds like you had idyllic childhood, too. Of course, there were problems here and there, but with free time to spend how you wanted to spend it and parents who backed you what more could you want. I like the freedom with limits you put on your own children. I did pretty much the same thing, but for them it was certain chores they each had to do. I also made a list of other chores they could do to earn extra money like cleaning the peacock cage because they were mine. However, they had to clean the stalls of their own barn animals, horses, ponies or goats.

KM Rockwood said...

Sounds like wonderful summers in a wonderful childhood!

I'm afraid I spent most of my summers rather resentfully on chores I found boring and then taking care of younger siblings.

For some reason, my mother decided all the front windows at the front of the house (at least 12) needed complicated crocheted shade pulls, and I spent countless hours working on them. I had to get a certain amount done before I could go out (and since I wasn't very good at it, I had to rip out and redo a lot) It took me several summers to get them done.

When I could go out, I had to take several siblings with me. But that was a better deal than what my older sister got. She had to stay in to care for whichever baby was too young to go out.

I discovered that the town had a free recreation program at the local junior high, and hauled my charges there almost every day. The younger ones were really below the age limit, but the staff looked the other way as long as they could keep up and didn't cause problems. I made sure they didn't cause problems.

The program had a field trip once every two weeks, and obviously we couldn't afford to go on them. Much to my amazement, my little group was permitted to go on several of the more desirable ones "on scholarship." I discovered later, from a friend whose older sister worked in the program, that the staff felt sorry for us and pitched in to pay our way.

Gloria Alden said...

KM, what a sad story that turned out well when you were able to go on those trips. I can't imagine what your mother was thinking of to have you crochet all those shade pulls. Seems like more of a punishment than anything else. I'm guessing your mother wasn't happy being a mother and worried about finances and carring for a lot of kids took it out on her older daughters.
I'm sure you were a much better mother than she was. Your daughters seem to be doing quite well which proves that.

Shari Randall said...

Gloria, it was a vacation to read about your summer adventures! They seem idyllic to a child of the suburbs like me. I still remember the freedom we had back then - so much unsupervised time, which kids today do not get at all.
I remember the smell of chlorine - we spent a lot of time at my grandparents' pool and swinging on a big wooden swing in their back yard, or at the beach, fishing for "shiners" and chasing each other with crabs that we caught.
The biggest thing was being out of school and not having to wear the scratchy woolen uniform for a whole blessed three months!

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, I'm glad you liked it. I can't imagine wearing a uniform. I went to our local school less than a mile away either on the school bus when I was young, and when I got older sometimes I just walked either to or from school because I felt like it. No one worried about my being kidnapped or grabbed by someone. I just heard something on NPR today that kids who have their whole life planned out for them and aren't able to explore on their own, aren't as resilient when problems arise or able to think for themselves as they get older. I think it's going to be on Ted's Talk on NPR this Saturday afternoon in more detail.