I've alluded to some of this before in my writeup in Summer but this unusually hot weather in June has me thinking a lot lately of summers past. I have this urge to capture these memories haunting me now and record them in case they someday disappear forever, which a recent article in Discover magazine has taught me is possible to occur.
I should probably do a writeup on that some day. But not today.
This is, of course, unapologetically, a GTKY writeup, but perhaps this can turn into a wonderful node, to be filled with the great summer memories of my fellow noders.
Like most kids my age in the Midwest, summers in my childhood were something special. I was so elated as I ran down my gravel road after being dropped off by the school bus the final time for that school year. Not having to deal with homework or surly degenerates for three months was pretty darn sweet. And my birthday is in summer, let's not forget.
My summers were filled with riding my bike or walking around the local countryside (when I was not inside watching television in the air conditioning, escaping from the oppressive humid summer heat of Missouri). Most children probably cannot do this these days, but there'd be days where I would leave in the morning and almost be gone all day, traipsing around with a friend through all the woods and fields around my rural neighborhood... riding the bike, playing in the creeks, etc. And I spent a lot of time most summers at my grandmother’s house, too, and, while she had a few acres, only a little bit of woods and no creeks were there for me to explore. She took me yard saling sometimes, though. She had an old car from the 1960's, a Pontiac, that we all affectionately referred to as "the boat," and she drove that thing until around 1990 or so, and one of the most amazing things about it was until it was retired its air conditioning system still worked, and it was quite cold to boot. Sometimes while she'd drag me around going to the garage sales, I'd stay in the car during the boring ones and put my bare foot right up on the round, cold vent, or stick my face right in it to stay wonderfully cool while the world outside baked and shimmered in the sticky heat
We had a pool, though, beginning when I was about 8 or 9, so many summer days were spent in and out of that thing. Being an artist, though, I have memories of days inside drawing something, usually cartoon characters back then, and looking out the window of everybody else yelping and splashing int he pool. Then when I was done leaving the cool house, galloping out into the sweltering heat, towel streaming behind me like a super hero's cape, dropping it on the gate, and then joining everbody else with a cannon ball into the cool waters of the pool.
Six Flags - the one in Eureka, Missouri - was another place I spent many-a summer day. We usually got season passes and since my mom usually didn't work she'd take us nearly every day sometimes. We'd usually bring a cooler and picnic for lunch out in the shade of the willow trees in the park area. We'd be there from morning until night some days, riding the rides, seeing a show here or there, gawking at the Cars of the Future display they used to have. (And no, none of those crazy things actually looked like cars I see on the roads when the Future arrived.)
Of course, since we're talking about America here, no summer memories are complete without recollections of Independance Day, or usually referred to as "The Fourth of July" or sometimes simply "The Fourth." No need to go into great detail here, but my Fourth were like most family's in rural areas where it was legal, we'd shoot off hundreds of dollars worth of fireworks starting about 9PM when it got dark until about... well, until we ran out, which was anywhere from 11PM to sunrise.
Speaking of... so far I've talked mostly about just summer days of my childhood. Summer nights, now there's whole-nuther-matter. Night time swimming after a good and hot day, the water would be as warm as bath water, which was wonderful the summer nights where it still got cool when the sun went down. And I remember, despite my mom always telling us not to, if the grate would collapse we'd be chopped up to bits, we'd always not listen and get on the air conditioning unit and dry off in the hot air blasting from it.
If we weren't swimming, we'd probably be running around in the fields by my house catching fireflies, or "lightning bugs" as we usually called them. Even when I'm down around my mom's house today (same house I grew up in) I don't see nearly as many fireflies as I used to, I'm not sure why. But I rememeber looking out in the fields and just seeing thousands of flickering lights whereas now I might see several dozen or so. When we would catch them we'd be nice to them. Well, we'd try to be anyway.
Many bugs, though, didn't get off so easily. I'm not sure if I should be ashamed to admit or not, but some of my family's summer night activities were described quite accurately by a Jeff Foxworthy joke. Were we rednecks? Maybe. We did indeed spend many summer nights sitting around shooting the breeze around, yes, a bug zapper. It was actually quite entertaining, especially when those big beetles would end up in there, such abject joy we'd derive from the crackling, frying sounds of the gruesome deaths of thousands of unfortunate insects.
But I think my most cherished memories of summer nights would have to be the other sounds of the country summer nights. Those would be the incessant singing of thousands of crickets, the chirping of dozens of frogs, and the beautiful song of one or two whippoorwills. All together, they'd create a wonderful summer night symphony, a perfect choreography of nature.
Back to daytime: I know this will sound weird, but I associate The Price is Right with summertime. Being that it was on at 11AM in my area I couldn’t ever watch it much until summertime. I really got into it when I was about 14 or 15. I was derided for liking this game show so much by some, it being perceived as a show watched mostly by old ladies or something. A quick look at many of the young contestants who seemed to know quite a lot about the show before playing dispels that myth, though. However, being not extremely popular or busy in those days, spending mindless hours in front of the television watching Bob Barker as well as old reruns of The Golden Girls and 227, you can give me crap for that. But, damn, those were the days! I was fortunate that my mom didn’t make me do many chores, maybe she should have. But workless summer days wouldn’t last.
When I joined the work force in the Fall of 1993 I set myself up for a summer of burger-making at McDonald's in 1994. It was after high school graduation for me, three months of busting my ass at the Pacific, Missouri Golden Arches before leaving for my freshman year of college. July 4th was on a Saturday that year and that was the busiest day I’d ever seen at a fast food restaurant anywhere, ever. I was told that before I got there for that evening shift that during the morning the lines were to the back wall and people were eating outside on the sidewalk when there were no tables left. That was also the summer I tried to join another segment of society: the drivers. A little late in the game, at 18, I tried and failed twice to get a driver’s license before finally getting it on the third time, right before I had to leave for college. My mom had to drive me to and from work (unless I got a ride with somebody else) that entire summer until the very last day I worked there before quitting. I made mistakes on those tests, sure, but the instructors were not pleased in taking the test with me in my truck which had no working air conditioner and that was a damn hot summer. So I like to think that those conditions influenced the results.
I returned to that greasy paradise, though, the next summer, after being home from college. That is where Fate stepped in and I met my future wife. After working there for several weeks with a skeleton crew (apparently a good chunk of the crew had quit right before I returned, pissed off at a manager), trying our best to keep our sanity handling the Six Flags crowd at night with only a few brave individuals, management had sought help from a neighboring town. My wife and another girl were sent to our store to give much-needed assistance. The summer of 1995 and the adventures therein made it one of my most cherished and interesting seasons. It was the summer of burgers & fries, Batman Forever, late nights driving around small towns and walking around a Wal-Mart.
I had met a girl online at college, began dating her, and she was scheduled for a visit to my house in Missouri around my birthday in June and that very same week my future wife, who I was already getting smitten with, had a scheduled vacation to Florida. Weird kismet there. I saw the latest Caped Crusader movie with my girlfriend on my birthday, making several wrong turns on the way to the theater (I still was quite new to driving, as I didn’t drive while I was at college). When my future wife returned from Florida and my girlfriend was gone I decided to trade in the long distance relationship for a short distance one and the rest is history.
Those Summer nights were filled with closing out McDonald’s and then just driving around with her, sometimes with her friends, going all around the nearby towns and walking around a local “Super” Wal-Mart at 1 or 2 AM or even later.
Since messing around at my house, and especially hers, was, let’s say, problematic, one night we were invited to meet up at the home of a friend of hers (she actually was married already and owned it) for hours of unmitigated messing around. But they weren’t there. We were so horny that we actually broke into their house, not wanting to wait until they got back from whatever they were doing!
Ah, those were the days.
With the exception of the summer of 1997, where I got to work at the campus computer labs for only a few hours a day (because I had a night summer class), no other summers since 1995 come close to being carefree again. In ’97 after my weekday shifts were over helping people print their damn Word documents and instructing them – over and over – how to get out of Print Preview - I got to go see movies, run to the Mall, or whatever. It was also that summer that I went to Florida for the first time, my future wife and her parents taking me down there. But I have never again had as many carefree times as I did that awesome summer of ’95 and all the ones before it. The summer of 1999, after I graduated college, actually sucked quite a bit of ass, as I spent it broke, unemployed, and driving all over the area looking for a job, and working crappy temporary ones. And this is where my rambling here comes to a close. Now all the days, all the weeks, all the seasons run together, as I work a regular 9-5, Monday through Friday job. Summer is only different now because it’s hotter.
I do take weeklong vacations in the summer, usually to the beaches of Florida, and in a few weeks I’ll be taking another one to Daytona, but now I will have to live vicariously through my children, see how happy they’ll be in their carefree summertimes, and look back to memories of the ones I had.