Note 3/ 21/14. I revised this post recently to include in my scrapbook/memoir and, with summer not far off, I thought I’d post it again. My memories of my childhood summers are some of my most treasured memories:
As an educator, I realize that the year round school programs have a point when they claim that by breaking up the 10 or so weeks of traditional summer vacation, there is less time required to review and relearn material forgotten over the summer. But at what cost to childhood? Although I enjoyed school, and received good grades, there was nothing like that feeling of relief on the last day of school. We washed chalkboards, stacked textbooks,cleaned out our desks and we were ready to go.
FREEDOM! An endless vista of days stretched ahead. Sleeping later each morning, playing outside with friends – riding bikes, playing house ball, getting dirty, eating ice pops, drinking Kool Aid beneath our big weeping willow tree. Our swing set sat under this tree. We would pretend we were flying and had to eject from our planes, so we would take a flying leap off the swing. A wonder we didn’t break any bones.
We had very special summers. At first, when we were younger, we would spend our summers at “the lake”. Following the end of WWII there were surplus building materials offered to veterans. Taking advantage of this program, my dad and my uncle bought a lot at the lake and built a sturdy two bedroom cabin there. The cabin had 2 bedrooms, a screened-in sleeper porch, kitchen, living room and bath.
It also had a very unique feature. In the kitchen, each person who came to visit us was invited to sign their name on the wall. It was the focal point of the cabin, and a reminder of all the good times we spent there and all the people who shared that time with us. We stayed there all summer with our mom, our aunt and 2 cousins. (There were 4 kids in my family, making 6 kids total.) What fun we had – swimming and boating, fishing and hiking – a child’s dream summer!
It was always a special treat to sleep on the porch, under the stars, drifting off to the sound of the katydids and the tree frogs. Our house in Haskell, NJ was situated on a pretty busy road. Part of the year we fell asleep to the sound of cars driving by and another part of the year, to the night sounds of katydids and tree frogs. It was a bit of an adjustment but I much preferred the summer chorus.
On sunny days we would “suit up” and head for the beach. Some days we had swimming lessons, some days they did arts and crafts on tables set up beneath the trees across from the beach. Our moms would come to get us in time to eat lunch on the beach and there we would stay until it was time for dinner.
On rainy days we’d sit at a long table that attached to the wall beneath the screens and color in our coloring books to the sound of raindrops and the feel of cool mist on our faces. The porch was also my reading place, as there were daybeds to lay back on and relax and read on hot summer afternoons. I traveled off to faraway places and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew. When I finished my books, I’d read my cousin ‘s Hardy Boys books and being one of those rare girls who liked science fiction, I read his Tom Swift books, too.
In the evenings we would go to play bingo at the club house, or see a movie and then buy a bag of penny candy to eat on the long walk home.
We would make one trip home in August to get our school supplies and be measured for our school uniforms. That’s s when we knew the clock was ticking on summer, but the excitement of a new school year was building. It was a bittersweet feeling – facing the end of summer but anticipating the new school year. We would return to the lake for the last weeks of August and stay through Labor Day – which was a bigger event for us than the Fourth of July.
At the end of August was Regatta Day – a day of games, competitions and picnics. In the morning, at the clubhouse, we’d have races –relay, sack bag, egg in spoon. At the lake the mothers of babies would dress them for a costume parade. Our first year, Ricky and I were “two peas in a pod”. We didn’t win, but be sure were cute. Following this, there were fishing and swimming competitions and the Aqua Belles would perform the synchronized swimming they had practiced all summer.
Then we would gather on the beach for the grand finale — the float parade on the lake. People would decorate floats pulled by rowboats and circle around the lake. Our folks were good at this one. Two that I remember winning were my cousin Susan dancing in an” Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” to the song of the same name. Those of you my age will remember the song. The float was decorated with a bath house and a beach scene. I remember we won “judges choice” for our Egyptian Float. Susan, as Cleopatra, sat on her throne, attended by 2 slave girls (my sister and me). Our fathers rowed their Queen around the lake, towing a golden pyramid behind it. The gold glowed in the setting sun and the float, also decorated in gold, really stood out. My father had sheets of this cardboard covered with shiny gold paper at his company, which manufactured containers.and it really did the trick.
Those were such happy days. Days spent running past “haunted houses,” telling ghost stories on the porch at night, waiting for the ice man to come with slivers of ice to cool us off. We had a canvas hammock strung between two trees in the backyard. One of us would get inside and pull the canvas tightly around ourselves, while two others would spin it around until the person inside was properly dizzy. Why we enjoyed this, I cannot say.
The moms and kids stayed at the lake all summer, and the dads came up on weekends and for their vacation weeks. We would walk down to a big rock on Friday night, sit there waiting for our dads, and jump in the car to ride up to the cabin with them when they arrived. Just a ways past our cabin the road ended and there was a path that lead into the woods and further on, crossed a stream. We would muck about in this stream, and hike through the woods and climb the cliff on the other side of the stream.
Just as there are fond memories, so too, there were some scary times. I remember walking home from the beach in a terrible thunderstorm, and another time getting cornered by some dog I didn’t know (I was scared of both thunderstorms and strange dogs). Then there was the time we had climbed the cliff and a rock fell down and smashed my finger. Susie got mad at me for ruining our hike. And while painting some kind of preservative stuff on the outside of the cabin, my Uncle Vic got some in his eyes and we were afraid he would lose his vision, but he was okay.
Scariest of all, we weathered through a hurricane in that little cabin – a hurricane which brought down power lines and trees, so many that it was days before our dads could get through to us. The worst memory was losing the daughter of one of my cousin’s friends or relations in the woods. We would take a short cut to the clubhouse, following a path through the woods. About halfway through she wanted to go back, so we gave her directions (they were simple directions) but somehow she got lost. Boy, did we catch it then. Grounded for life to the limits of the property, dressed down by all four parents, we feared our summer was over – until we were given parole.
My uncle was a Fire Chief and every summer he would host a fireman’s picnic. Susan tried to organize some plays for us to perform, but I don’t remember if we ever did them. I probably ran and hid somewhere until they were over. We would have a big picnic, play badminton and horseshoes, and eat hamburgers and hotdogs grilled outside, with watermelon and later, toasted marshmallows on sticks for dessert.
I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. In fact, this stroll down memory lane makes me want to go back. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m on that porch, looking out on a vista of green grass and trees at the beginning of summer. The cars are parked on the side yard and it’s that time of day when the sun is setting and the sounds around us are settling down. The voices of the grown-ups playing cards in the kitchen are comforting sounds. Susan is in the living room reading one of her magazines or maybe a paperback novel. Ricky, Mary and I sit on the porch, playing a game or maybe Mary and me are cutting out clothes for our paper dolls. Maybe it is the year Aunt Ta had us all wrapping hangers with yarn for a project she was in charge of. I still have one of those hangers. And I think, this humble cabin, built by the hands of my father and uncle, is a paradise found.
Did we know these were some of the best days of our lives – simple, uncomplicated, long , lazy days of a childhood summer? Did we let them slip too quickly through our fingers? Did we pay enough attention to the days as they unfolded? In the end, it was just that we grew up, and no longer wanted to spend time away from our friends and other pursuits. Our family began to travel in the summers, we eventually got jobs, got married, moved away
Our parents decided to sell the cabin once we were grown. So there is no going back. Life moves on. But,if someday, we do find a way to travel back in time, that’s where I want to go. Ambling down the road to the dock, my fishing pole in hand, to spend a lazy afternoon fishing, dreaming and enjoying being a kid. I will try to pay more attention, to appreciate things more this time around.
I wouldn’t be surprised to meet Sheriff Andy and Opie along the way. Maybe I’ll meet you, too.