These sunny hot and humid summer days remind me of my childhood. I am so grateful for these wonderful memories and thinking about them makes me so happy.
We were always awake early, but would roll over and talk until my mother came in to get us moving. The windows were flung wide open, with double-barreled fans going full blast, and the sun was already hot by the time we got out of bed. We started our day with cereal or toast and out the door we went.
Our house was on a corner, so our yard was always full of the neighborhood kids. Some of them were there before we even finished breakfast, sitting on the steps of the big wraparound porch, just waiting for us to come out to play.
Many days, my mother would fill the yard with billowing lines of sheets and colorful clothing hung in the bright sun. On those days, we would play under the flowering bushes of the yard, with old tattered blankets shadowing our hiding place. Doll dishes and cookies were brought out for tea parties of juice squeezed from the berries picked in the neighbor’s yard. Our sweet young girl-giggles could be heard as our Barbie dolls were driven in cars fashioned from Kleenex boxes, high-fashion dresses were made of cast-off material scraps, and doll treehouses were built in the crooks of the bushes. Sometimes you could hear our screams when my brother and his friends came by, pestering us for cookies and juice, and my mother would have to shoo them off to another corner of the yard.
Most of the time there were more than three or four kids there for lunch, and my mom would make us peanut butter and jelly or bologna sandwiches with Lemon Blend to drink. Our metal picnic table was always filled with our chattering as we talked about what our afternoon plans were going to be.
If it was raining, we knew there was going to be a territory war. My mom would split the porch into two areas so that the boys could play on one side and the girls on the other. No one ever stayed on their side and usually there was a squabble or two about who crossed the line and how much space we should have. My mom was the judge and jury on this topic, saying, “Either play together or go home,” so the fights never lasted long.
When it got really hot, my dad would hook up the hose and sprinkler, and we would spend hours running through it, sometimes playing games and chasing each other until we were wrinkled and exhausted. Our afternoon snacks came from climbing trees and eating the fruit or checking out the berry bushes for the ripest pickings. We would ride our bikes up and down the sidewalk, from the alleyway down to the fire hydrant three houses down and back, and once we were old enough, we rode on the street and were allowed to go the neighborhood playground.
Playgrounds had daily activities and every day we brought home a craft, painting, plaster-of-paris casting, popsicle stick trivet, or another ashtray that we proudly offered our parents and they dutifully displayed until the next summer’s collection came in to replace it. We would sometimes swing, slide and talk to each other for hours on end. Once a week, there was a black and white horror flick shown on a white sheet tied to the playground fence, and the entire neighborhood brought their own drinks, snacks, and blankets to watch under the stars.
My dad was always dropped off at the corner after work at 5 p.m., and we would rush down the sidewalk to meet him. He had a whistle that everyone in the neighborhood recognized as “dinner!” and one that was “get home now!”…so no matter where we were, we knew to come home right then. Every night for dinner, there was fresh summer fruit and vegetables from the garden my father so proudly showed off to his buddies. From May until September, my mother canned everything that grew in our yard, and our basement shelves were filled to the brim by the time autumn arrived.
After dinner, we would run at the tinkling music from the ice cream truck; then sit on our front porch steps dripping popsicles and pushups until the evening games of hide-n-seek and badminton tournaments started. We would play until dusk, then everyone would gather in our yard to catch fireflies while a group of our parents gathered on the sidewalk or porch to catch up.
Every night when the streetlights came on, the kids would gather on the gliders and rockers, sitting in the shadows of my parent’s rose-trellised front porch. Some nights my dad would bring out the television and watch while we gabbed about things we thought were important to us. Other nights, the older neighbors gathered on their porches and waited to hear our young voices start singing together. We sang all the popular songs while we munched on popcorn and orange slice candy. Many nights parents would come looking for their children and stay long after the neighborhood “curfew whistle” had blown.
Midnight good-byes were common as we came inside to wash our sun-glided faces and dirty shoe-less feet. Our bodies were dotted with calamine to stop the itches of bug bites and poison ivy before slipping between the fragrant bedsheets that had hung outside all day. Goodnight kisses followed whispered prayers before we drifted off to dream about our next day’s adventures.
Our summers were spent having fun, making friends, getting wet and sunburned. It lasted until Labor Day each year when the arrival of the Jerry Lewis Telethon meant that summer was over, a new school year was starting, and we could start our planning strategies for fort-making and the neighborhood snowball fights of winter!
It was painful to sell my childhood home after my parents passed away. The neighborhood has changed and I have grown up now, but the memories of the summers of my childhood will always be with me and bring a smile to my face!