It’s summer time. In May, moms can’t wait for it to arrive but right about now, they are all pining for the start of school. They are ready to be rid of send their little snowflakes back to the classroom. And you know why? They are worn out from entertaining them.
I keep humming the tune to Ella Fitzgerald’s hit, Summertime as I recall summer when I was a kid.
It was the 60’s. My mom (like all of the others) shoved sent us kids out the screen door early and locked closed it behind us. Don’t come back until lunch, she said.
The elementary school down the street offered summer recreation. In a big open room (that was not air-conditioned) kids of various aged played ping pong and board games. Outside, others circled around sandy places where marble championships were played out. On the adjacent sidewalk, girls bounced tiny rubber balls and scooped up jacks with proficiency; others jumped rope to rhymes like Cinderella Dressed in Yella and Three, Six, Nine.
Girls playing jacks in Tallahassee. 1963. Black & white photonegative, 35 mm. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <https://www.floridamemory.com
There was a sandy playground with a very tall slide. It was metal – by afternoon it was too hot for our bare legs to touch. It was fast, but not fast enough, so we managed to find squares of waxed paper to sit on as we pushed off. There was a sandy hole at the bottom of the slide and our butts landed hard. One time someone fell off that slide and broke her arm. There was no lawsuit so we got to play there all the days of my childhood.
And who was watching over all of these vulnerable children? I’m pretty sure it was a couple of teenagers. Oh, there was probably an adult somewhere, but my bets are that she was in the air-conditioned teachers’ lounge smoking doing lesson plans for the following year.
When we finally returned home we turned on the water spigot on the side of the house; it ran through the hose and we had to wait for it to cool. It was refreshing.
Mother didn’t have play dates arranged for our afternoon; she expected us to find a shady spot to play dolls. Later in the day we played kick ball in the front yard, or badminton, using the fence as a net. We jumped on the swing set and swung so high that the legs raised up off the ground. We sang those same jump rope rhymes to the rhythm of swinging legs, propelling ourselves higher and closer to the sky.
We knew better than to say we were bored. She would put a bucket and broom in our hands and we’d be scrubbing screens and cleaning windows before you could say “child abuse”.
If there were Vacation Bible Schools I didn’t know about them. We were Catholic and there is no way my mom was going to allow the protestants to influence us with their cookies and Kool-Aid.
Speaking of Kool Aid, it was a favorite. Sweetened with sugar, I’m pretty sure it kept me alive, like a glucose IV drip. I don’t really remember eating but I’m certain we were fed.
The Popsicle Man came around most afternoons. The sound of the recorded music announced his imminent arrival and we started asking for nickels as soon as we heard it. We didn’t always get one, but it was a treat that we loved. We all sat around inspecting the color of each other’s tongues. No one wiped our faces or hands with wet wipes.
There were those magical afternoons when we loaded up and headed to Lake Fairview for a swim. The water was warm, but it was wet. Not one sign warned of alligators or snakes; we knew they were around, but I never saw even one. They had lots of room to avoid contact with humans and I think they liked it that way.
When it was finally time to come in for the day, she cycled us through the tub in our one-bathroom home (did I mention there were six of us?). The residue from kids who had played hard was apparent in the ring left in the tub. The last one out scrubbed it with Comet cleanser and we all settled in to watch some Red Skelton or Gunsmoke or whatever we my parents wanted to watch.
Yes, my mom left us a lot to our own devices, but she knew more about what we were up to than we realized. The world was big and far away, and our life was simple.
Those tired kids never had a problem falling asleep. She was smarter than any of us knew.
“Lady Wisdom builds a lovely home…” Proverbs 14:1 MSG
By his grace alone (I survived my childhood summers),
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