In Our Good Old Summertime

Yes, I KNOW I talk too much about growing up in the 1950s. But I can’t help it–I had a great growing-up, and the 50s was when it happened, and oh, how wonderful those days were! The summer days especially were glorious; endless sweeping vistas of hot days and cool nights, brilliant stars against a blue-black velvet sky, and the honey color of the morning sun that teased your eyelids open, and insisted that you wake up and see what the day would bring.

There was a luxury of time stretching far ahead; I felt I would live a hundred years. I was literally bursting with energy, and no summer day was complete without climbing at least one tree, jumping off the dock with a big KERSPLASH, reading in a sunny spot outside, or scraping together nickels and dimes for a lemon sherbet cone downtown at Rexall’s Drug Store.

I had chores to do just about every day, but once they were done, there was so much to do! I might ride my bike all the way to my grandparents’ house the next town over. Once there, I could take out my grandfather’s beautiful old wooden kayak and paddle all around the shallows in Mirror Lake, or just let the waves push me where they would, with me day-dreaming and drowsy in the heat of the morning.

Some summers my southern cousins, Jeff  and Cindy, would come up with their parents from South Carolina to visit. They stayed at my grandparents’ house, and Cindy and I, being close in age, would do things together–that is, until her wild and unpredictable temper broke loose. I swear I never understood that kid; she got mad faster and stayed mad longer than anyone I had ever known. Not only that, but she sassed her mother regularly–something I would never have dreamed of doing with my mom.

In my house, we were big on manners and courtesy with each other; that’s what I was used to. But Cindy was like a wild animal on a rampage when she got her temper up. I could never wrap my mind around someone who acted that way around grown-ups and lived to tell the tale. My own parents didn’t put up with it, from her or anyone else. I used to wonder why Cindy’s parents let her get away with it. All I knew was that once Cindy and family went home, my stomach would finally relax.

But other than those visits, summer was magical. Sometimes I slept out on the lawn at night in the sleeping bag I used for camp. It was wonderfully freeing to go to sleep hearing the peepers and whippoorwills and the occasional loon, its haunting cry echoing out on the lake. I would wake up the next morning, my sleeping bag twinkling with dew drops, and feeling absolutely great.

I laugh to myself now when I think of how effortlessly my body moved and how strong I was; I never thought I would ever feel anything but healthy and free all my life. Back then my body could do amazing things; I could hold my breath for a long time while swimming underwater. I could shimmy up a tree in no time flat, I could do back-bends and somersaults, and I could run like the wind. Nothing hurt, no joints cracked or complained, and I don’t remember any pain except maybe the time I knelt down on the sandy bottom of the beach on a hidden chunk of glass that cut deeply into my knee. I was shocked to see a chunk of my flesh bob up in the water, and nearly passed out.

My dad got to me first, wrapped me in a towel and carried me to car and drove me to the doctor’s office. The cut was deep enough to need stitches, and Dad stayed right by me while the doctor sewed me up. I ended up feeling more than a little proud of that scar (which I can still clearly see); Dad called it my first “battle scar.”

When summer thunderstorms came, Mom and Dad and I bundled up in blankets and sat on the front porch, enjoying the light show over the lake and all the noise. It was like going to the movies for us. Living on the lake was a lot of fun. Often in the early morning when mist hung over the water, there would often be a beautiful blue heron standing on our dock. To this day blue herons are my favorite birds, and seeing one kind of puts a blessing on my day.

As Wendy said to Peter Pan when he finally flew back through her window, years after he said he would return, “I am ever so many years past 20.” But my heart is still young and hopeful. I still feel that, if I really wanted to, I could still do those back-bends and climb a tree….I haven’t done either yet, but I bet I could if I tried.


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