Oh, summer, now you have melted away winter’s frozen memory, including three frigid days without electricity, numerous windstorms, icy roads and gray darkness. You’ve illuminated our lives once again. Bring on the yard sales, band concerts, church fairs and all of those festivals. Bring on the warm water for swimming and the extended daylight for walking, biking, running or just hanging out in the backyard. Bring on the fireflies, humming birds and flower gardens in bloom. Antique cars on parade and boat motors purring, sails unfurled in the harbor, bobbing dinghies tied to the floating docks, watermelon.
Yes, summer, bring it on!
When I was considering writing a piece on the theme of summer fun, I thought it would be a contrast between the generations: what older people versus younger people looked forward to during the warm season. But as I began to ask questions, it turned out there wasn’t much of a difference. Heck, swimming is for all ages – right?
So, instead, this story is about what came to people’s minds regardless of their age when they heard the word summer.
When I asked anyone over the age of 40 to share a memory of summer fun, they all seemed to become relaxed, as their eyes would take on that faraway look one gets when watching a memory play out on their internal movie screen. They inevitably would express the warmth they were feeling with an audible “Aaaah … .” Yes, summer, even the memory of it, is a balm for the soul. Asking younger folks the same question elicited a very animated excited expression, an urgency, high energy, an “Oh, yeah!” type of response.
For many who offered their thoughts, responses ran the gamut: “the ice-cream man and his ringing bell”; “salt water taffy and hot dogs with a little beach sand”; “riding my bike from morning to supper time”; “the return of summer friends to their cottages”; “digging clams and selling them from my wagon”; “ girls in bathing suits, of course”; “swimming to the raft”; “my row boat”; “playing 45s on my portable record player outside on the steps”; “visiting family”; “eating anything grilled outside.”
One retired gentleman shared, “We spent our summers at Ellis Haven in Plymouth. My father worked his shifts in New Bedford driving back and forth or staying at our house, but my mother and us kids stayed at the campsite all summer. We didn’t go back home until Labor Day. We swam, fished, rode our bikes, skinny-dipped and had campfires every night … heaven.”
For others, summer meant a time to earn some much-needed cash. One woman shared, “I worked at the Five & Dime and the Copper Kettle. I looked forward to that. I bought my own school clothes.”
Another said, “I worked at the Greek bakery and got to take home donuts and pastries at the end of my shift.” She also commented, “I loved those little nylon waitress uniforms, those tiny cocktail aprons and the beaded hair nets – I thought I looked beautiful.”
Another woman laughed remembering how her mother tried to protect her from drowning: “I remember high tide, but being told not to go out past my waist, as if I couldn’t drown under that rule.” This same person also shared, “We weren’t allowed to go swimming for an hour after we ate lunch or else we would get a cramp and drown.”
What a fun time I had talking to a group of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds eliciting the following examples of kids saying the darnedest things: “I like going in the boat, we have two, we go to Cuddyhunk [sic], I get to drive it all the way,” one child said.
“I’m going to Sweden to visit my grandmother,” another said. When I asked her what she’d do for fun once she was there, she said, “look at my grandmother.”
Another youngster said, “I like to see the monkeys in the jungle.” I inquired, “Jungle? You go to the jungle?” He replied, “The zoo jungle.” I asked him if he fed the monkeys anything and he said bananas, but his buddy piped in to ask, “Hey, don’t the monkeys like pears?!”
One gentleman said he always looked forward to his week at Boy Scout Camp, all of the water activities and shooting guns. He also confessed to accidently burning his leg at a campfire but not telling anyone because he didn’t want his mother to forbid the following year’s trip. It was a secret he kept until he was in his 20s, when his mother saw his hairless shin during a backyard barbecue and asked what happened. Yup, Boy Scout Camp was worth one small breach of the oath.
A local fellow told me that when he was a kid, there was a tower in the middle of the raft at the town beach. It had stairs you climbed to a platform that could hold three or four kids. From there, you’d step out onto an overhanging ledge and plunge into the water. How much fun he had hurling himself from the tower and cannonballing all the swimmers. He said he felt like superman when he’d do a handstand from the platform and then back-flip into the ocean. As he told me this, the years melted away from his face. When asked about doing that at low tide, he said you just had to be a little careful. Doing cannonballs was such fun the tide and threat of a broken neck couldn’t deter him and his pals. One lady told me that she lost a front tooth at the age of 16 when her face hit something underwater after jumping from the tower. Nearly 60 years later, she laughs about the carelessness of youth while remembering the joy at the same time.
The Wharf Dances were noted as a high point to the season, when the kids really danced and didn’t just hang around. One lady who grew up in New Bedford said summer represented staying out late and playing in the streets because “everyone played in the street, there weren’t many cars back then, and the yards were very tiny.” She continued: “We roller-skated, rode bikes without fear or boundaries.”
Another shared that after her girlfriend’s dad cut the grass, he’d turn on the water sprinkler, and how much fun it was screaming and running through the cold water. The smell of fresh-cut grass is her favorite fragrance to this day.
Still another gal who grew up in Rochester said she was a biker chick, so summer meant hours on her motorcycle with friends, riding trails through the woods and going to the beach to tan. Bikes and tanning were her only thoughts when summer rolled around.
Nearly everyone mentioned road trips. One gentleman said he’d go to Moosehead Lake, Maine with his grandfather in an old Winnebago. Once there, the old gent would cook their frozen TV dinners in the tiny oven and how good those tasted. The next day they would turn around and go home. A true case of the getting there was the fun versus the destination.
One of the richest memories shared with me came from a former New Yorker now longtime Mattapoisett resident (he asked me not to disclose his name, but don’t worry: I know he isn’t in the witness protection program … well, I’m pretty sure anyway). His memories took him back to the sidewalks of New York: “During my youth, when our world was naïve, safe and a great place to be, twice a month Mom would drop two friends and me off at the Queens County subway. We’d then ride into Manhattan, switch to a northbound train, and arrive an hour later just in time to catch the beginning of batting practice at the Polo Grounds, home of the NY baseball Giants, our heroes.
“Our lives and dreams evolved around baseball then, either on our own field or the real deal. And, what better way to live the dream than showing up at 11:00 am, paying 75 cents for a left field grandstand seat, baseball gloves and sandwich bags in tow. At that time, 75 cents was 75 percent of two week’s allowance. The ultimate thrill was in catching a home run batting practice ball, then throwing it down to one of the fly-shagging players for an autograph and then throwing it back up to us. Willie Mays and a few others were always willing to oblige. Nothing lasts forever, but I still have the memories of climbing the stadium steps and seeing that big beautiful green field below me.”
Thank you to those who shared their thoughts about summer. Did you recognize your contribution? Whatever your plans are, may summer bring you memories to wax poetically over in your later years. And if you are already there – your later years, that is – may your walk down memory lane be filled to overflowing with the carefree feeling of youth and summer joy.
By Marilou Newell