Thursday, July 6, 2017

Memories of Summer

RHYS BOWEN:

I remember summer well. It was a time with no structure and no commitments. I played alone in our orchard, building a tree house, making a trapeze on a big apple tree and pretending I was Patsy of the Circus (my current favorite heroine). I remember that I used to do some pretty amazing stunts on that trapeze. I never fell off either, because Patsy never fell off.

On other days I'd go with my friends into the woods and we'd play exciting cops and robbers type of games. Sometimes I'd go off on my bike, find a stream and catch tiddlers and minnows in a jar. Summer days seemed to stretch on with no end. Sitting on the bank of the stream, warm sun on my back, eating a cheese and pickle sandwich and fruit from out trees was just perfect.

It still sounds perfect now. Every summer I say to myself that I'm going to take time off to chill out, to sit in the shade with a book and a cool drink. And what happens--I look up one day and it is September and the summer has slipped away.

Of course I know the world has changed. My daughters can't let their children go off for the day on their bikes. You'd never let ten year olds play in the woods without adult supervision. But I deeply regret it. We've taken from our children the time of wonder and creativity and imagination. Instead we've filled their summers with structure. They go to tennis camp and swim camp and computer camp, and play dates are arranged. But they rarely have the luxury of planning their own time, going where they please, stopping when they feel like it and coming home when they are tired.

I was delighted when we visited relatives in England that the six year old boy spent the afternoon making potions with various flowers and ferns from around the garden. I used to do that, and try to make perfume with squished rose petals.

I think my summers helped make me the writer I am today. I lived a lot of that time in the world of my imagination. I became observant of tiny details as i watched nature around me. I became resilient as I fell from a tree, trying to hammer a plank for my tree house, scratched my knees, cleaned myself up and climbed back up. Now that I'm a grown up I'm hardly ever bored. I can always think of something I'd like to do. I can take myself off and wander a strange city without feeling scared that I'll get lost.

I’ve had a lovely cruise around Spain, France and Italy but there was little down time. What I really want is to sit by a river bank, watching the play of sunlight through leaves and just let my mind wander. Alas there is a new book to start, revisions on a book to do, AND sample chapters for the next contract. All lovely but… what happened to summer?

What are your favorite summer memories?

32 comments:

  1. Summer picnics . . . what a special treat.
    I remember going on bike riding adventures with my sister and our friends . . . not something children can do today, I’m afraid.
    I loved summertime because there was no school and I could read whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted. It was my most favorite thing about summer . . . .

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  2. Much the same, except we didn't have woods to go off into, except when we camped in Sequoia National Park every summer. I made potions, too! Reading under a tree with a frosty homemade milkshake, taking off on my bike, hammering and sawing a big pirate ship out of junk wood, setting up a secret "clubhouse" in one of our closets, so many lovely memories. My sons did similar things except for setting off on their bikes (we lived on a busy road). Happy summer!

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  3. As I look back, I remember an enchanted childhood, no TV, radio at night only except for my grandmother's day programs, "The Romance of Helen Trent," "Our Gal Sunday," "Arthur Godfrey", "Queen for a Day," and on and on.

    I played. In the grass, under the spirea bushes, had an actual cellar door to slide down, splinters and all. I created fairy villages out of grass and sticks and berries and flowers, populated by hollyhock ballerinas. There were puppies always in the barn, and a tire swing in the pasture. On a good day I might be taken out to my godfather's farm and get to ride Silver. Or gather eggs. Or assist in the milking, separating the milk, all that happened on a working dairy farm.

    Later I had wheels, a Montgomery Ward one speed blue and white bike, the only one I ever owned. It was a sixth birthday present, full sized girl's bike, and it lasted me through high school. We didn't discard toys lightly in those post war years.

    I was 11 in 1952, when TV cake to NW Missouri, one channel, but within a year we had three! Watching TV was a family thing, and one had to get up to turn the dial, change the channel, fuss with the "aerial", which often had bits of tin foil decorating its ears. My father climbed up on the roof to install a proper antenna, which he turned this way and that while my mother and I reported on the clarity of the picture. It wasn't very.

    I don't recall spending much time indoors, and I spent much of my summers going back and forth to the library, stopping at the Rexall store for a cherry coke or a chocolate soda, spending hours with my friends exploring the creek, catching snakes, taking apples to the horse down the way, going off with my mother to her friend's mother's country place to help feed threshers, make apple butter, fry dozens of chickens for a huge mid-day feast, every single bite of food grown on that farm.

    When I was older, many of my friends got jobs working in the fields, detasseling corn or suckering tobacco. I wasn't allowed to do this. My father was too recently off a poor dirt farm, and these weren't skills he wanted me to have. Instead he did guided reading with me, made sure I was reading the classics by Jules Verne and Dickens and Lewis Carroll and Louisa May Alcott, later Gunter Grass, Tolstoy, Edgar Allen Poe and the Brontes. Steinbeck came later, as did Erskine Caldwell. He also introduced me to Ellery Queen, Nero Wolf and the inimitable Agatha Christie.

    My summers aren't very different in my dotage (grin). I still love to hunker down with a good book, spend as much time out in the garden as I can, and I now supervise the building of whole fairy subdivisions in the gardens of the neighborhood children.

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    1. Bicycles are freedom, Finta, when you're six years old. I think the fact that I rarely watch TV today traces directly back to the fact that we only got two blurry channels out of far-distant Columbia when I was little. I just never picked up the habit, and playing outdoors was so much fun. And neighborhood soda fountains! We had one within bicycle range when I was in the fourth grade. Heaven tastes like a lime phosphate.

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    2. Finca, I made fairy houses with my granddaughters, in hollow parts of old trees. We lined them with moss, decorated them and then disguised the entrance so that the fairies could live without being disturbed. We found one of them, several years later and still untouched!

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  4. Love these memories! For me, summer meant camp. Day camp. Then 4 weeks of overnight camp. Starting when I was 6 as a camper and then junior counseling into my teens. Day camp was at Tocaloma--their pool was in Santa Monica across Santa Monica Blvd from the Mormon Temple. Their overnight camp was near Sedona (AZ) in one of the most beautiful spots in the universe.

    My favorite thing about camp was the trip to Slide Rock where we slid down the rapids on our fannies and caked red mud all over our bodies. Oh yeah, there were trips to the Grand Canyon and Montezuma's castle, but Slide Rock was the best. The camp director was an inspiring woman named Gertrude Dietz who shaped more than a few young lives. Weird memory: walking with her and talking about death and was there an afterlife. She told me that no, she didn't think so, so what mattered was the impression you made on others during your lifetime. That was what lived on. She impressed a lot of us.

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    1. Yes, camp! I should have included that. Girl Scout camp in the Santa Barbara mountains. Learning to groom a horse. Sharing care package candy with my cabin mates. Flag ceremonies. Campfires. Singing rounds with a hundred girls and women in the dining hall. Really special memories.

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    2. Hallie, Sedona is one of my favorite places in the universe too. And I love the pools at Slide Rock, except the water is so cold!
      Rhys

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  5. Oh Rhys, your post brought back so many memories. One of my favorites that I had almost forgotten was that I made sort of a fake trapeze. I managed to fasten an old broom handle onto the ropes of a swing. From there I proceeded to hang by my heels. What fun! I'd like to do that today!

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  6. Rhys--never being bored today because we entertained ourselves through those endless days of summer--yes!! We took the sides of large cardboard boxes and made them into slides for grass-covered hillsides--made forts from the farmer's hay bales, had a tire swing, woods to explore and berries to pick along the fencerows, fill jam jars with wild flowers for our mother, find secret spots in the cornfields to hide or dream, play outside among the fireflies until we were called in for baths and bed, then lie awake with the sweet summer air filling your bedroom--listening to the far off train whistle before you fell asleep.

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  7. When I was very little, summer was a time when Mom was home but Dad was not. They were both teachers, but Dad went away to summer school to work on his masters degree, leaving my sister and me to roam our block more or less at will, exploring the woods with a troop of neighbor kids and sometimes taking a long walk with Mom down to a little lake. As I got older, Dad got a job at a university, and we moved to a larger town. There I lived within three blocks of all my friends from school, and we'd swoop around the neighborhood on our bicycles. I wrote and directed my first backyard plays, and charged neighbors a quarter to see them.

    Older still, and we moved to a small town where Mom got a teaching job. Suddenly all my friends from school were miles away, and I spent a lot more of my summer reading. I had always read, and enjoyed trips to the library, but in Willard, Missouri, books became a lifeline for me. Summer meant I could read as much as I wanted. One summer I read 50 books--mysteries, romances, and lots of stuff about ancient Egypt. Even better, I got my own dog, who made himself useful by pointing at the rabbits while they ate everything in the garden we planted.

    Ah, but when I got to college, summers became glorious again! On Memorial Day weekend I would gather with 40 to 50 of my friends, and we would put up a big circus tent, build a stage, sew tons of costumes, and put on three different productions--two musicals and a comedy, often Shakespearian--with one month to build and rehearse, and one month to perform, rotating to a different production each night. I worked really hard, every day, from nine a.m. until sometimes well past midnight, and I loved it! Some of my happiest hours were spent building costumes while one of the actors--assigned to the costume shop but with no actual sewing skills--read aloud to us from "The Princess Bride."

    It took me thirty years to get back to that happy place. These days I have swapped actors for musicians, but I'm still managing the show from backstage. I have all the dogs and cats I want, and I can read as much as I like. All I need now is a functional bicycle, so I can swoop a couple of blocks over to my friend's house. Maybe she'll want to come out and play.

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    1. Gigi, my sis-in-law, Emily, got a big tricycle. That's what we need, lol!

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  8. My best friend and I used to take super-long bike rides. Start in the morning, finish hours later at dinner. When we got older and could drive, we'd go canoeing/camping (once she learned that yes, thanks to Girl Scouts I could in fact start a fire).

    Kids are structured these days--until they become teenagers. Then they don't want to leave their rooms and you find yourself telling them "go outside and DO something." LOL

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  9. Potions? I think that little boy might be ...potentially dangerous. But that's the crime fiction author in me.
    The thing I can't grasp--how did summers used to be so LONG? When school got out, it seemed like we had forever to play and read. We made elaborate multi-stranded braided jewelry out of clover. And caught lightning bugs and let them go. We tired to sleep outside in the back yard until it got dewy and buggy and bumpy. We also had "Shows" on the patio, with singing and dancing, and costumes made from--crinolines? Worn on the outside? Where would we even get those? We rode our ponies across the back pasture, and had to clean out stalls every day before we would play. Camp, yes, girl scout camp! I was in Cabin ROMANY, and if you want me to sing our cabin song, happy to. White Coral Bells, and Make new friends but keep the old, and John Jacob Jinkleheimer Smith and They Built the Ship Titanic. Lanyards. And LInda Katzenberger telling us the story of -what was that pod people movie?--around the campfire until we were SO scared we couldn't go to sleep.
    And reading!
    Such fun to read all these posts today! Thank you!

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    1. My own kids always put on shows when they were young and with neighbors kids once put on a circus.. Making the poor dog jump through hoops, I remember!
      I feel so bad for today's structured kids who have never run free, discovered treasures, had a chance to experience wonders.
      Rhys

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  10. The combined odors of bug repellant and wet hair remind me of Y camp in the Poconos: swimming, canoeing, overnight hikes, campfire sings on the lake beach. At home, long days at the library, all day bike rides, making potions of plant material in mason jars.

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  11. Mud glorious mud! Playing in the huge puddle, squishing it between my fingers, making mud plates to dry in the sun, then being led to the river and dunking washing the mud free. As I grew older sitting on the rocky beach, smashing rocks with other rocks to look inside for gold. It was almost possible; there was a rumor of a gold mine up river, even later running like a parkour practitioner through rock falls up river to find that old mine, or at least the source of the river.

    At home sitting on a lawn swing reading reading swinging dreaming about what I read. Playing games we made up; "midnight riders" "how did I die" "the junior detectives".
    Growing my very own rasp berry patch, going on slug patrol to save said patch.
    Watching the skies for heat lightening, and then in August for the sign of forest fires...

    Roaming always roaming and thinking and being free to just be me.

    Thank you Rhys for helping me open my door back to summer.

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  12. Oh Rhys, you've hit on one of my frequent laments! My memories of summer were of leaving the house late morning/early afternoon and not being required to be home again until dinner time, after which I was not required to return until the street lights came on. In the interim, I had boundaries of how far I was allowed to stray but within those boundaries, NO ONE CARED. We played lots of make believe games, wandered in a wooded area, road our bikes all the time. There was also a community pool in the area, and many a day was spent there, swimming and socializing. I, too, remember the absolute freedom we enjoyed.

    My son is 23 and even when he was growing up, one could no longer provide that kind of freedom to children. So my late mom made it her business to always host him for one week of the summer and make absolutely no plans for the week. She used to say to me, "His life is so tightly scheduled all the other weeks -- I want him to have one week where he can just do as he pleases. If he doesn't want to get dressed at all, but just lounge in front of the TV in his pajamas all day, that's OK. If he feels like going to a movie, we go to a movie." I feel so fortunate that he was able to enjoy at least one week of that kind of freedom each summer.

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  13. My summers were wonderful -- after breakfast, my sisters and I would leave the house on our bikes, and Mom just said to be back in time for dinner. We'd go to the swimming pool or the candy store, visit friends, collect coke bottles for the deposit so we could have some pocket change (for the candy). It was a very safe and wonderful time, and I don't think that any of our mothers ever worried about us when we were out and about.

    I envy your camp time at Sedona, Hallie -- that's where we spent our honeymoon, and it was heavenly ~

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  14. My mother worked, so I had to be inventive to have summer fun within her strict rules, one of which was to stay in the house. We lived next to a playground for five years, but only rarely got to spend time there. However, the bookmobile stopped in front of the house, and I borrowed the limit for me and for my sister every week. Some of the books were to read, but some were for projects to keep the younger kids busy. While I read, of course.

    In high school we moved, and lived close to the public pool. We spent many afternoons there. My aunt took me back home with her to Maryland, birthing my lifelong love of road trips.

    Kids in rural areas can still spend the day in the woods. Our renters at the farm in Kentucky have two boys, 11 and 12, who are thoroughly enjoying exploring about half of our 140 acres. There are hills, valleys, vistas, creeks, ponds, animals, birds, and tons of wild berries to cram into their mouths. And the neighbors all have horses, which some kids around here spend the day riding.

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  15. My mother worked, so I had to be inventive to have summer fun within her strict rules, one of which was to stay in the house. We lived next to a playground for five years, but only rarely got to spend time there. However, the bookmobile stopped in front of the house, and I borrowed the limit for me and for my sister every week. Some of the books were to read, but some were for projects to keep the younger kids busy. While I read, of course.

    In high school we moved, and lived close to the public pool. We spent many afternoons there. My aunt took me back home with her to Maryland, birthing my lifelong love of road trips.

    Kids in rural areas can still spend the day in the woods. Our renters at the farm in Kentucky have two boys, 11 and 12, who are thoroughly enjoying exploring about half of our 140 acres. There are hills, valleys, vistas, creeks, ponds, animals, birds, and tons of wild berries to cram into their mouths. And the neighbors all have horses, which some kids around here spend the day riding.

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  16. Oh! We also used to play Olympics. Using the back of the couch as the pommel horse. My mom was not happy with that. We also ice skated with socks in the hallway.

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  17. Those summer memories sound wonderful, Rhys.

    Like you, I always think I'm going to relax and enjoy the summer, especially with few TV shows on I watch. And next thing I know summer is over.

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  18. Going to the beach was how I spent my summers when I was little. We'd fill up a wagon with the necessities and head down to the neighborhood beach, appropriately named "Rocky Beach" because it was very rocky. There were a few spots of sand where my mom and the other neighborhood moms would set up camp, and the kids would either head to the tide pools to explore or jump right in the water. We'd spend hours making up games on our rafts and come out with pruney fingers!

    My friends and I also rode our bikes, made up games that we played in a field in the neighborhood, and would get ice cream at Nancy's Ice Cream down at the town landing. As I got older, summer also meant a lot of babysitting, probably so I could earn money for more ice cream!

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  19. Amazing to think that I would take off on my bike and return whenever.
    My family used to do a lot of camping. Now I wonder if any of the equipment would still be there at the end of a day.
    Sigh

    Libby Dodd

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  20. Love summer. As a teacher, I never left the academic calendar so that continues to be my rhythm. Yes -- bikes, outdoors, day camp. I started going to 4-H camp after 6th grade and stayed involved until I was an asst. director after my Sophomore college summer. It was a short camp -- never open more than three weeks and you went home Friday night to Sunday morning but the days stretched.
    After camp, we got ready for the county fair where I brought my heifer, Nilly, and my baking and sewing projects. Loved it.

    We have a house on Cape Cod and host our kids and grandkids -- they are able to have easy days with lots of access to beaches. Very lucky.

    It is amazing how as children we were able to simply head out the door and find other kids and play all day unsupervised!!

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  21. Oh, my summers growing up were a glorious time of playing outdoors with my neighborhood friends. Of course, as you said, Rhys, there was the time when parents could let their kids go all day wandering the neighborhood and surrounding hills and such. We played cops and robbers on our bikes, hop scotch in the street (I lived in an area isolated from traffic except for those who lived there), and jax. Kids today just look at you strangely when you reminisce about playing with that little rubber ball and those funny metal x things. I remember my friend Jimmy and I packing a picnic to take to the hill behind our subdivision, with my mother adding a few necessary items. We would go to the county fair and be thrilled to walk the grounds, ride the rides, eat the junk, and watch the horse and beauty shows. My friend Phoebe, just down the street, and I would make mud pies when we were quite young, and my pigtails always seem to dip into them. We would sometimes play school in her basement, as she had a giant chalkboard down there. What wonderful freedom we had!

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  22. Rhys, what a lovely post. I ran wild in the summers, too. Up until I was about six, we were really in the country. Twenty acres, with a creek, pastures, horses, and blackberry thickets. And poison ivy!!!! I'm really allergic and was always covered in it. Then my dad sold off most of the acreage and the suburbs came to us, but I still had all the creek bed to play in. Picnics with my best friend on a big fallen tree over the creek--Vienna sausages and Triscuits. Bikes, lots of reading, lots of day dreaming. The smell of mosquito coils, which I still use and they always take me right back to my childhood.

    We went to the drive in down the road on those hot nights. Caught fireflies in jars. Swam in the city pool. Then, on the weekends, my parents played golf and I spent whole days in the country club pool, covered in Sea & Ski and eating burgers from the poolside grill. Hamburgers never tasted so good again!

    It does seem pretty idyllic now, and, like most of us, I credit a good deal of my imagination to that unstructured time...

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  23. I remember walking with the sun burning the back of my neck, my bathing suit and towel tucked under one arm, to Radium Springs, in Albany, Georgia. Half the time I would discover tadpoles swimming in puddles on the way and my trip would be interrupted by a search for an abandoned paper cup or can to capture them, and then a trip back home to add them to my collection. This collection also included land turtles, which would end up under the sofa in the house, frogs and at least one jar of fireflies. Eventually, I'd make it to the private pool which was created from a natural spring, and was the coldest water in South Georgia. There I would meet my two friends and we'd dive into the "boil," the well of emerging water, trembling in anticipation of the shock of the icy water and the possibility we might disappear into the hole. We had heard stories of children who never surfaced. Mari Sloan

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  24. Wonderful post! Looking at the first photo, I wanted to jump into that photo like when Mary Poppins jumped into the painting with Bert and the kids.

    I remember the summer days when I could play in the gardens behind my house. The gardens reminded me of the Secret Gardens book. We had a swing set too. I could pretend that I was swinging on the trapeze. I lived in a small town where the streets reminded me of the Cotswolds in England. Swimming in the summer was one of my favorite activities.

    We went on vacation, usually to visit my grandfather for a few days. We would explore the town where my grandfather lived. In the summer, there was also the Renaissance Faire and we would go once a year to Marin County? where the Renaissance Faire was.

    Summertime also meant eating ice cream and drinking lemonade on warm days.

    Diana

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  25. I read and read and read. Trips to the library as often as possible and stacks of books. And camp. Day camp for a few weeks with either the Girl Scouts or the Y. And two weeks at Girl Scout camp as soon as I was old enough. I was a tiny kid, not athletic, a terrible swimmer, but somehow I loved camp anyway.We slept in a real tent. Cooked on a real fire. Learned woodcraft.Had a whole day of activities. I suspect I thought I was in an adventure story and I did love every minute of it.Except maybe the freezing lake twice a day.

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  26. Thanks for the reminder. I read and read and read during the summer. I read books that I Wanted to read instead of having to read books for homework at school. I went to the library where they had kid sized chairs for kids to sit and read books.

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