The other day I read an article by a millennial who was remembering her summers growing up. I was pretty amazed at the stark differences in her childhood summer memories and my own. Granted, we were talking about a different generation but while her summers were made up of video game marathons, hanging out in the park smoking cigarettes and getting high (her words) and spending summer evenings at some grunge club in her city, I couldn't help but think how drastically different our two era's of growing up really were. It immediately got me to thinking about the differences and about what a great blog it would make. So here we go. Let the summer memories begin......
As a young child, summertime was the focal point of my world. Well....that and Christmas. But in the recesses of my cobwebbed brain, it seems that back in the late 60's and early 70's, summer didn't begin with Memorial Day. No....for us, summer began with field day. I am sure every school all over the country had a version of this, but ours was a day of in-school, outdoor fun. We wore shorts (we weren't allowed to wear shorts any other day of the year) and we got to eat a sack lunch among a day field with foot races, jumping events, jump roping, climbing and sack races. And there wasn't one participation ribbon to be given. No....there were first, second and third place ribbons and you had to both compete and win to receive one. I still have a couple of those highly coveted third place baby's. After a long hot day of outdoor fun, field day always ended with tired, sweaty, smelly and most of all sunburned kids who were ready to go home and begin their summer.
As a young child, my summers were spent outdoors with neighborhood kids. We all had our neighborhoods and our neighborhood boundaries were as far as our mothers could yell. Summer days began with jumping out of bed, eating breakfast (which my mother never let me out of the house without eating) and then running outside. Usually the day before, the neighborhood kids would have decided where or whose house we would meet at the next morning and by 8 a.m., someones yard was full of bikes and kids. Most of the time we never went into peoples homes because that simply wasn't done. You played in the yard. If you got thirsty you drank from the hose and if you had to go to the bathroom, you ran or rode home and then came right back. From morning until noon we rode our bikes around the neighborhood, rounded up other kids and came up with a thousand and one different games to keep ourselves occupied. Sometimes the girls sat in the driveway and played Barbies while the boys spent hours racing their Hot Wheels down the incline. Other times we played tag, red rover or other equally exciting games. Then about noon, we could all start hearing our mothers yell out the door for us to come home for lunch. We each knew our mom's voice and we knew the minute we heard it that we had about two minutes to be home. We would race to our house, quickly swallow down lunch and then rush back out to our designated meeting place to begin the afternoon play.
Afternoons were usually spent in someones sprinkler or at a nearby school field playing kickball. If the day were particularly hot, you could often find a bunch of hot and tired kids sitting under the shade of someones tree, hanging out, talking and planning the next big adventure. As suppertime approached, it seemed like we all just instinctively knew it was time to head home. Supper was always about 5:30 and almost always eaten as a family at the kitchen table. After supper though, we all got our second wind and were back outside. Most of us knew we could play out until the street lights came on. That was our signal that it was time to call it a day. We would make our plans for the next day and head home to get cleaned up, drop exhausted into bed and prepare to do it all again tomorrow.
When I was about middle school age, we had moved to a small town and it was here that the aesthetic of my summertime life changed. Here we had a big yard and my mom decided to go back to her country roots and started having a huge garden every summer. Because of this, my summer mornings started early. With a garden and a big yard, there is always something to do and my mom made sure I did it. From planting to harvest I was always out there weeding, watering or doing something garden related. As the summer progressed, I got a lot of kitchen time too helping can everything from jams and jellies to pickles and tomatoes.
Summer wasn't all work though as one of the pleasures of small town life was to have a town pool that was within walking distance and though my mornings were filled with yard work, my afternoons were spent at the pool. Yes, from 7th grade through high school my summer afternoons were spent with Sun-In in my hair (yes, I did have orange hair all summer long), baby oil on my skin and having a blast with my friends. If I close my eyes I can still smell the chlorine, hear T-95 blasting from behind the snack bar and see the "nose coated" life guards with their dark tans and superior attitudes. Yes, in our world life guards were cool and they knew it.
Summer evenings were spent back out in the yard watering or just sitting out talking with the neighbors. We really weren't indoor people during the summer and our house usually showed it as our waking hours were almost always spent outdoors.
When high school and my early twenties hit though, summer took on a whole new meaning for me. Of course there was still the infernal garden, but I then got a job which excused me from some of that. I then replaced going to the pool everyday with going to a couple of local beaches (Crystal Lake and Meadow Lake). By this time I had learned to go easy on the Sun -In, but the baby oil was still a must have. When I wasn't working, my afternoons were either spent at a beach or hanging out at my best friends house who conveniently had a pool. It was at this time that I learned the fun of summer nights.
After a day of pool or beach lounging, my girl friends and I would clean up, doll up and hit the town. We found local bars such as Backstage and Pogo's and would spend our evenings dancing and drinking watered down beer (in KS you could drink beer at 18)....and we did. After we finished at the bar, then we headed down to Douglas Street. Douglas was a two mile stretch of street in the downtown area of Wichita. Every Friday and Saturday night, every kid and young adult from Wichita and the surrounding towns would congregate on Douglas and drag for hours. It was a place to show off your car and yourself and to meet lots and lots of people. I hear tell that many a couple started out on Douglas. (If you would like to know more about dragging Douglas.....I actually have an old blog about it. Check it out.)
As I got a little older, my summer days became consumed with having a "real" job, but I made sure my summer nights stayed fun. My friends and I turned our rock and roll bars into more of a country scene. We found our favorite country bars and hit them from time to time, but we had a new found love of the country boy and spent a lot of time on the tailgate of pick ups under the stars, drinking beer and hanging out. There were bon fires, dances and did I mention those country boys?
Eventually I grew up and my childhood summers were but a memory. The theme of my childhood though was not sitting on the couch playing video games nor hanging out and getting high. My summer memories were of an innocence so far removed from today's world and culture that today's world would hardly recognize it. It was a time when parents could let their kids run the neighborhood. There were no cellphones in which to check up on them or to mirco manage their every move. We were taught rules and expectations and if not followed there were consequences. We also learned so much from those summers so long ago. We learned independence, responsibility and social skills. I had many many neighborhood adventures and most of all.....I had fun.
Yes, summertime still holds a special place in my heart and those memories of years gone by will forever be a part of me. I was blessed to be brought up in a world where it was not only safe, but also fun to be a kid.
Now..... let's bring on the summer and make some new memories.