Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back in the Day (Way Back When): Childhood Memories of Summer

Ah, let me lighten up just a bit today. It’s just that the foolishness of the last few days got me so riled up. But I’m much better now. I’ve almost found my sense of humor again.

But anyway, as I sat in Paneras on yesterday waiting for my children to finish doing the movie and mall thing, soaking up the wi-fi and lamenting the fact that every time my children have left the house this summer, it has involved me driving to the other side of town and has cost me at least fifty bones, I entered into a conversation via twitter with @TracyReneeJones over at Me…being Anonymous and @GenevaN, who is actively searching for a male submissive, about what kept us entertained in the summer when we were kids. And I had a pretty good time. It picked me up and helped me find my smile again.

Not only that, I have read that culture is primarily a function of proximity and shared experience. So, let’s do an experiment this morning. Let’s find out just how culturally aligned we all are. Those things I most remember about summertime follow. How many can you relate to?

1. I remember leaving the house each morning covered by a fine coat of Vaseline.

My mother was virulently anti-ashy, so whenever we left the house, she first took it upon herself to eradicate any evidence of ash that might have existed on our person. Our faces, our elbows, our little knees. And the result was every little bit of dirt or dust, no matter how fine, seemed to stick to us.

2. The street was our playground.

We didn’t need no stinking playground. We played right there in the street. We played football, baseball, kickball, hopscotch, or whatever. Every now and then, someone would yell CAR! And we would scurry to the curb, wait patiently for the car to pass, then continue.

3. Invented toys and games.

My children don’t seem to understand how fortunate they are to have all that stuff. When we were children, unless it was Christmas or your birthday, you rarely got new toys or playthings. So between those days, you had to be inventive. We were like MacGyver in inventing playthings. Older readers please help the younger readers with who MacGyver was. Did you ever catch fireflies (We called them lightening bugs.), put them in a jar, and make lanterns at dusk?

4. The candy lady.

Did every neighborhood have a candy lady? Usually she was a little old lady who supplemented her income selling the favored ghetto snacks—now-n-laters, lemonheads, Boston baked beans, pickles, freeze cups (they call them honey drippers here in Florida), stage planks.

And I don’t mean to gross you out, but our candy lady’s house was just overrun with roaches. There were so many you could almost hear them walking. Sounded like someone crumbling up aluminum foil. But that didn’t deter us from taking every spare nickel to her every chance we got.

5. Fighting in the street.

Oh, we had our disagreements. And most of the time our disagreements centered around girls or playing the dozens. And sometimes our disagreements led to fisticuffs. But the difference between then and now is that if we had a fight in the morning, by afternoon we were friends again, and we would then put our little pennies together and go drop them off at the candy lady’s house.

6. Kool-aid breaks.

Every now and then, a mother would call us over and treat all of us to an icy cold glass of kool-aid. The more generous mothers included fruit of some kind in their lemonade. My mother was a health nut, so she sweetened her kool-aid with honey. But my little playmates politely drank it. But later when we were playing the dozens, someone would eventually get around to pointing out that my mother’s kool-aid tasted funny. And then little Max had to do some straightening.

7. Music was ubiquitous.

All kinds of music—jazz, blues, r & b, funk, gospel—came from everywhere. It came from out of open windows, from cars, from those big huge radios people used to carry up and down the street. And sometimes the sounds of music were accompanied by the smell of burning hemp.

One of these days when I have the time I am going to sit down and make put together a CD entitled “The Soundtrack of Max’s Summer.” And one of the first songs I’ll include is the Fatback Band’s “Backstrokin’”. Remember that one?

8. Watermelon sprinkled with salt.

Did anyone else sprinkle their watermelon with salt or was it just a southern thang?

9. Window fans.

Window fans never seemed to cool off anything. They were mostly psychological. They just seemed to pull the heat from the outside to the inside and then swirl it around. But you could make cool sounds when you talked into the blades.

10. Family reunions.

This was the highlight of summer. All our snooty northern cousins and other relatives would head back down South seemingly just to remind us how country we were and how backward the South was. But every year they always came back and ate until they could eat no more. They even had the nerve to take food home with them. But I lived for these weekends.

Help me out here. What are your best memories of summer?


msladyDeborah said...

I'm on the page with you. Life during my childhood was good! And it definitely was filled with food and moments that I wish my own children and grandchildren could experience.

uglyblackjohn said...

Being "barefooted".
I remember my mom making us wear shoes all summer.
But, when we'd leave the house, we'd hide our shoes in the bushes next to the house.
We would walk everywhere.
After a few weeks of walking on the hot asphalt of a California desert city, we could walk on broken glass.
By the end of summer, we could walk twenty miles with Shaka Zulu.
We had to wash our feet and put our shoes back on before going back into the house. (Always before the street lights came on.)

Anonymous said...

Living in Brooklyn, NY ... I remember getting sprayed by the fire hydrant and block parties. I really miss the block parties. And every now and then we'd get a treat... and Dad would take us to coney island or great adventures. We also did the fresh-air fund thing for a while.

Anonymous said...

This really made me laugh. I remember these times so vividly. That's when childhood meant something. Even the things you hated like "picking the switch" I remember fondly now. Today is so different. Fear plays a huge role in what are kids do now. I don't let my kids play outside unless I am watching them every second. Back then our parents never had to. 7 am I was out the door and didn't come back till the street lights came on. I try to help my kids visualize what life was like then through stories about it but sadly I don't think they will ever experience it.

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