Although the calendar indicates that summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, temperatures throughout most of May––some record highs––have reminded many folks in the mid-west U.S. of sweltering mid-summer heat.
During that warm spell, I had the privilege to reconnect with my best friend from the old neighborhood where we grew up. That particular morning we spent hours stomping in the woods (something we’d done quite a lot in our youth and beyond) and then occupied the remainder of the day just chilling and chatting. Some new bits of information always seem to enter our conversations whenever we get together, but mostly we love to reminisce about the good old days. Because of the toastier temps, I suppose, this time our tête-à-tête focused on summer in our old neighborhood.
In the 1950s and ’60s, cable TV, DVDs, video games, smartphones, and virtual reality didn’t exist. High-tech meant transistor radios. People who had one were really cool. And speaking of cool, most folks where we lived didn’t have air-conditioning. Window fans were the items of choice to battle the heat. Many mornings we kids would watch for the milkman, mooch some of his ice, crack it on the sidewalk, then suck on and crunch the crystalline chunks.
Despite summer’s elevated temperatures, unless it was raining, kids in our neighborhood spent most of our days outside. Our mothers saw us three times a day––breakfast, supper, and bedtime. In between those daily events, we were outside playing, exploring, or creating our own games. Reality wasn’t virtual, it was something we lived. And, as long as we weren’t late for supper––or our moms didn’t receive a phone call telling them to come claim their sons––no one ever worried.
All-day (sometimes several-day) Monopoly games were common when temperatures rose to scorching. The player whose front porch was shadiest was elected host, then we’d set up the board and have at it. When the Parker Bros. favorite became too ho-hum, we walked down to the local appliance store, cut out a three-foot by three-foot square of cardboard from a washer or dryer box, and made our own version of the game. Ben Franklin Five and Dime had lots of play money for twenty-five cents a bag, and with more denominations. We were set. The only drawbacks were: 1) Thinking up names for the extra property spaces on each side. 2) It took four times as long to circle the board, reach GO, and collect $200. 3) Games could last a week or more, and were often relocated indoors.
My backyard featured a mulberry bush that morphed into a fence-spanning tree that provided splendid shade. Once the fruit ripened, neighborhood kids would regularly become purple smears. Not only were the berries good to eat, they were fun to throw at one another and watch ’em splat. My best friend and I recalled the day the new kid on the block (no relation to the boy band) came over to see what we were doing. His biggest mistake was wearing a sparklingly white T-shirt. The new kid didn’t stay long. When he left, his T-shirt resembled a tie-dyed version from the late sixties. Right after that episode, he started lifting weights. The T-shirt probably landed in the trash.
When we’d all acquired three-speed “English racers,” bicycle treks became the norm. We’d plan our journey (which often changed) the day before departure. After breakfast the following day, we’d pack a lunch, hop on our bikes, and take off. Twenty miles or more of exploring “new territory” was the goal, which we usually accomplished. Heck, my dad had bicycled from St. Louis to Chicago with my uncle when they were lads. I suppose two-wheeled wanderlust was in my genes.
Most summer evenings were occupied by playing softball in the street. We’d gather at the curb, decide who the team captains were, then toss the bat to see who’d choose first. Three or four kids to a side were plenty––one to pitch, one or two on the infield, or one or two in the outfield. The team at bat provided the catcher. Tar strips between our street’s fifteen-foot long concrete slabs defined the bases and the narrow but de-e-e-ep playing field. With no fence to restrain fly balls, we always played uphill. Otherwise, line drives could roll into the next neighborhood. Most neighborhood adults accommodated us by parking their cars in their driveways rather than on the street. Those that didn’t gladly moved their vehicles when politely asked. Many adults would often sit on their porches and cheer us on. Of course, there were a couple of grumpy codgers whose front lawns were their private domains. Chasing after a foul ball on their precious grass was forbidden––but we did it anyway (with our parents’ cautious encouragement). Night after night, we’d play until it was too dark to see the ball. Though the winners always razzed the losers, participating and having fun was the more important issue.
My best friend and I further reminisced about our youthful experiences and recalled other incidents that helped distinguish our childhood, such as: chasing crawdads in the creek; playing Army or cowboys and Indians; constructing a “clubhouse” from appliance boxes; making our own fireworks; catching snakes; exploring caves; camping beside a river; searching for arrowheads; and more. We both agreed that we were not only fortunate but very glad to have grown up in the less-restrictive era that we did. And throughout our youth, we’d survived without helmets or knee and elbow pads, ridiculous warning labels on every product in the house, or high-tech electronics to guide and entertain us.
Yep, we truly enjoyed the good ol’ summertime.
Thanks for stopping by.