Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2003

Bits and Pieces

Sweatin’ out the summer

July 17, 2003

What I'd call the "honeymoon" of the summer is over, and we are now into serious summer, when the temperature is hotter than 90 degrees more days than not. You can still find an evening when it's possible to sit on the patio after dinner or wander over to a ballgame; or walk on the track for an hour without being too uncomfortable. But most days are now spent in the cool recesses of our homes, where we wait out the summer, which often lasts into September.
When I was growing up we had no air conditioning, so everyone sat on their porches in the evening for relief from the heat, so you actually got to know your neighbors. Windows were also left open, and sometimes you got to know them a little more than you wanted. We did, however, have the ice truck that delivered large blocks of ice to our homes. If you were quick you could jump on the truck and retrieve slivers of ice that were wonderful to suck on.
When I was very young and one of 30 kids in a two-block area, the heat didn't seem to bother any of us. We went about our usual games of playing rubber guns, marbles or hopscotch. Or we skated on cracked sidewalks in skates that fastened onto shoes with a key that you hung around your neck on a shoestring. If you were lucky, you sometimes played board games in the cool of a friend's basement.
We also attended band concerts in the park in the evening, which was fun -- the downside being that it was necessary to have a bath before attending. One of the older girls on my block actually took a bath every day even though all she did was sit on the porch swing and watch the rest of us getting filthy digging up turnips from her father's garden and eating them raw after a wash with the hose. I never could understand why her bath was necessary.
On the really hot days when the temperature approached 100, my mother made me come inside in the afternoon, take the dreaded bath and actually wear the silly "housecoat" she thought was appropriate for a little girl and "rest." On these afternoons, I was forced to play with my paper dolls that were not nearly as interesting as my playmates, all of whom were boys.
One summer the older boys on my block invented an electric chair, and I, being the youngest on the block, was the first victim to test their experiment -- after the cat who didn't come home for a few days. They also ate popcorn and drank Kool-Aid right in front of me as I looked on through the screen door, which was locked from the inside.
As if this wasn't torture enough, we moved away from this wonderful neighborhood to the "country" as I called it when I was about 7. The "country" was only a few blocks outside the city limits. We moved next to my grandparents, who had a large two-story home surrounded by large trees, which was always the coolest place I knew in the summer next to the public library.
Summer days there were very quiet, filled with reading and playing in or under the large oak tree in the back yard. At 4:30 every afternoon, anyone who was home gathered on my grandparents' patio in the backyard hoping for a cool breeze. My job was to water down the patio with the hose to cool it off before we gathered.
The grown-ups drank coffee, even on the hottest days. My grandmother had a half glass of beer, and I drank lemonade from a pitcher that had red strawberries on it. We were always joined by friends of my grandparents who came to read the evening paper to check out the obituary column and gossip about the neighbors and local happenings. I guess this was our version of a cocktail hour even though we didn't know it.
I recently took a bike ride with two of my grandsons, Garrett and Gabe, ages 8 and 9. Their mother thought they were spending too much time inside these days and decided they needed at least two hours outside each day. They ventured down to my house on their bikes, so it seemed a good idea to get my bike and see if we could make it out to the cemetery outside of town.
Our first stop was West Elementary (one block from home) where we checked out the new playground equipment (very nice). Then onto the shelter house in the park at Winchester Estates (another half block) to take in some shade. Then Simple Simon's (nine blocks) for a much needed drink, where we discussed the posters on the wall and I found that they actually knew who the Beatles were. However, the infamous Rat Pack was an unknown.
Garrett did know the name of the music playing, "Great Balls of Fire," by Jerry Lee Lewis, much to my surprise, so we all joined in singing whenever "great balls of fire" came around. After Simple Simon's it was on to the library (one block) to sit in the cool for about 20 minutes. This had already taken an hour, so half the time "outside" was gone. When I suggested going to the cemetery, I was met with complaints and reasons why that was just not possible -- everything from blisters on the feet to a headache, so we headed home.
Upon arriving home, drinks were again necessary as well as Popsicles. Gabe remarked in a tone intended to make a grandmother guilty that he couldn't believe I would take them on a "six-mile bicycle ride." So much for summer bike riding. I did find out that grammas can be pretty tough, both at 6 and at 60.

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