As a kid I loved summer. As an adult, I try my best to be sure my son loves it, too.
When I woke up this morning, my son was watching kid shows and lounging on the couch amid scattered baseball cards and other kid-paraphernalia. Watching him linger, absent of worry and so carefree, I felt a pang of guilt that we had to head out the door to begin a week of tennis camp. As an only child, I have this pervasive fear my son will be lonely during the summer and as a result, I schedule something on alternate weeks as a guarantee we will have something organized to do.
But this morning, I wanted to stay there. In that moment. In that small space where nothing matters. I did not want something to do.
I am a child of the ’70s. My first decade of summers was spent on our century-old family farm and although I had a daily list of chores (the hard work of unloading hay bales, caring for the house, and becoming a true worker would come a few years later), those early seasons were free and open and enviably unmarked, unplanned, and awesome. The days before technology meant there were only three television channels to watch and none of them catered to children. There were no computers, no tablets, no video games (unless you were one of the lucky ones to own an Atari console). Distractions were few and the days were long. Sometimes too long. But looking back, I realize how much I miss the simplicity. The hot days seemingly stretched with the morning sun, leaving the hours ahead wide-open and free. So just how did I fill the time?
- I read. A lot.
- I rode my bike. A lot and alone (gasp!) on the quiet country roads which dotted ours and neighboring farms.
- I played piano duets with my sister. Until we inevitably began to bicker.
- I created artistic masterpieces from the big book of construction paper. Light Pink was my favorite color, and I always ran out because there was never enough.
- I wrote stories. All were somewhat awful but my mother insisted they were brilliant.
- I spread blankets and towels to mimic the rooms in a house and played hour upon hour with my Barbie dolls.
- I followed my grandfather around every inch of our farm. We would feed the feral cats and their scraggly kittens powdered milk with torn-up bread.
- I went mushroom hunting in the woods with my father, ice cream pail in hand. One time he put my glasses in his front pocket and lost them in the pig yard. We found them later, crushed and muddy. I wore my old pair the rest of the summer.
- I camped in the woods with my brothers in a canvas tent.
- I played Red Rover and Mother May I and Red Light, Green Light in the fading night. My parents watched from lawn chairs.
- I caught lightning bugs and caterpillars and butterflies in glass mayonnaise jars, their metal lids pricked with air holes.
- I looked forward to walking down the hill to the mailbox. Sometimes I would get a handwritten letter from a friend.
- I rolled down the steep lawn in front of our house with dogs and puppies chasing and hopping upon my back, only stopping when I could no longer breathe because of the laughter.
- I perfected my cart-wheel form.
- I tried to break the world record for consecutively hitting a birdie in the air with a badminton racquet. Hundred and ten is the best I could do.
- I walked barefoot in the grass. All the time.
- I gathered apples from the trees, picked rhubarb from our patch, weeded the obnoxiously large garden, gathered fresh vegetables for dinner, and always had my eyes open for ripe raspberry and blackberry bushes.
- I occasionally talked with a friend, dialing their number by memory on the black rotary phone hanging in the kitchen.
- I went outside when it rained.
- I shucked corn on the cob, shelled peas, canned anything and everything for winter, and ground meat for cold sandwiches.
- I drank red kool-aid.
- I set up a store of random items in our front porch. Best prices around.
- I rode our horse and pony.
- I walked the railroad tracks down across the road that split our farm, putting pennies delicately on the tracks.
- I hung and brought in laundry from the clothesline. Daily.
- I often wished I lived in town. Now I know better – how lucky I was to live on that farm for the first eighteen years of my life.
In my mind, I can still walk every inch of the land, recall the smells and outbuildings and animals. The quiet. The simplicity. The adventure. The peace.
And so it is, as my son lazily wakes each morning and asks what we can do and explore, I try my darndest to meet his expectations. It is not easy. He is a town kid, the very same thing I once so desperately wanted to be. Even still, I am hopeful. Not only hopeful that he will feel excited for the spontaneous promise of a summer day but also that he might one day remember them with an equal amount of fondness.
Where did you grow up? I am from the U.P. of Michigan clan of LaPalms.