Musings from the Hill, June 4, 2015
Small-town summers of long ago have vanished. School days were behind us. Long lazy summer days lie ahead. Jobs for teens did not exist unless one lived in a farming community. A fortunate few were lucky enough to go to camp. Camps for sports or to advance proficiency in computers or other worthwhile educational endeavors were unheard of.
In bygone days, many towns did not have a municipal swimming pool or the old swimmin’ hole. When we were small, if a hot wet blanket descended upon us, our greatest delight was to go under the hose. First we filled a small metal tub for the two little ones; plastic pools were yet to be invented. We older three ran, usually screaming and yelling, over the circular sprinkler. No, it did not wave back and forth. We moved it around the front yard to ensure the entire yard was watered.
I can still hear Mother calling, “Time for supper! Don’t slam the screen door! Wash your hands!” After supper on summer evenings, neighborhood children assembled in our yard to play kick the can, hide and seek or statue. Our mother always maintained a relaxed attitude, therefore our yard was the gathering place. Shouting with glee, we played until it was “time to go home.”
Afternoons, impromptu ball games were in full swing on the vacant lot. Sometimes the boys dug hideouts and we played cowboys and Indians. Adjustable roller skates were in vogue; they could be lengthened as well as tightened. We called them clamp-ons. Woes betide the child who lost his skate key. Girls wore theirs on a string around their necks (where I now wear my car key). Boys’ pants pockets easily accommodated a key, a sack of marbles and the ever-present pen knife for mumbley-peg. Pants for girls were unthinkable except in winter when we wore “snow pants”.
Saturdays, we often walked downtown to the movies. For a hard-earned dime, Charlie Chaplin, Our Gang, The Three Stooges or westerns starring Tim Holt or Tom Mix could be seen over and over. After a frantic phone call, many a child was awakened by the usher and sent home for supper.
Before the main feature, a newsreel and then a serial were shown. Perhaps Martin and Osa Johnson’s remarkable films of African animals or “The Perils of Pauline,” which was held in high esteem, particularly if she was tied to the railroad track by the villain. The episode always ended with the train inches from her head. The following week, in the nick of time, she was always rescued by the hero. Our all-time favorite was Tarzan. Boys gave the famous Tarzan yell as they would swing on tree limbs. All the girls wanted to be Jane.
On very hot days quieter pursuits prevailed. Well before World War II, small Japanese gardens in large flat bowls were popular. I spent many hours making little bridges, pebbled creeks, benches and paths lined with moss and other tiny plants. Everyone played cards, although card games on Sunday were frowned upon. Concentration was a favorite. The entire deck was placed face down. The first person turned over two cards, if a match, one kept the pair and was entitled to another turn. No match, the cards were turned back in place. The game involved both concentration and memory because one tried to remember where a replaced card matched their draw. The game ended when all cards were matched. The player with the most pairs won.
We roamed the woods and fields, explored small creeks and at night pursued innumerable fireflies. We put them in jars by the bed and released them in the morning. In later years, their numbers declined. After DDT was banned, fireflies and butterflies once again seemed to increase.
We were never bored. My brother-in-law lived on a farm in Georgia and rode a mule down the tobacco rows at the age of 6. Never did he entertain the thought of boredom. Someone would surely have put him to work.
We read for hours. Some of our friends received the magazine “Child’s Life.” I read my mother’s childhood books, “Girl of the Limberlost,” “Freckles,” “Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” to mention a few. The “Little Colonel” series, the “Wizard of Oz” books, my brother’s “Tom Swift” series and my special favorites, “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” “Peter Pan” and “Mopsa the Fairy” were read over and over.
Those were long ago days when summer stretched endlessly ahead. Today children are involved in many activities: working, pursuing innumerable sports, often in competition at camps or touring the country on car trips. “Spare time” is spent playing video games. Many times I have heard “I’m bored” as they flip on the TV. When do they have time to just be?
“The summer skies are darkly blue, the days are clear and bright, and Evening trails her robes of gold, through the dim halls of Night.” Sarah H.P. Whitman (1803-1878)