My kids don’t know summer at all. Well, they don’t know the real summer, the summer that I remember as a child. They think summer looks a whole lot like winter, only now they are covering themselves with sunscreen instead of heavy coats and hats. My kids are still waking up with an alarm clock at the crack of dawn to get dressed and eat a good breakfast, but instead of making sure their homework is safely tucked into each backpack, they are double-checking to ensure they have a beach towel and a dry tee shirt for their weekly field trip to a local pool. For my children, summer consists of a heavily scheduled and oh-so predictable day camp whose job it is to keep them entertained five days a week, and it makes me more than a little sad.
Growing up as a kid in the early 1970’s, we didn’t have air conditioning in our house, yet miraculously, we all survived to tell the tale. We kept our windows open all day and all night, and we used noisy box fans to move the sticky air around, although we still left wet prints on the vinyl couch if we lingered there too long. But back then, we kids didn’t linger there too long. Even though we had the luxury of sleeping late to our hearts’ content each day, we willingly hopped out of bed, downed a bowl of Count Chocula (sometimes two…okay, maybe three), and were out of the house in our bare feet so quickly that we scarcely heard the sound of the screen door slamming behind us. That was summer.
We didn’t coordinate our play dates back then. Actually, we had never even heard of play dates. Our mommies never pulled out their calendars to see if next Tuesday at 2 o’clock in the park was good. Our social calendars were open all day, every day. If we didn’t see any kids in the yard next door climbing trees or making necklaces out of clover, we got on our bikes and rode until we found someone else looking for a partner in crime. (Fun, I meant Fun.) We never knew who we might find willing to join us in a game of freeze tag. That was summer.
We did chores, but these were summer chores that we relished. I remember sitting on the back porch in a flowery halter top and pig tails, swinging my legs over the edge while helping my mama shuck corn. Or sitting at the kitchen table across from her, snapping green beans to go into a big pot of water on the stove with some fat back, and how the smell of those beans cooking somehow made its way to the swing set I kept busy most days. (Granted, every vitamin and nutrient was completely cooked out of the beans, but hey, they tasted great!) I didn’t mind going down to our little garden to pick ripe tomatoes and squash even though it was a no-brainer that my bare feet would soon fall victim to honeybee stings over and over. That was summer.
We stayed outdoors every evening until dark back then because night time was prime time for kids to practice the unofficial sport of summer - catching lightnin’ bugs. We would race around the yard like we had never seen one before, trying mostly in vain to snag these creatures in a Mason jar, and all of this movement was choreographed to the sound of my father’s Atlanta Braves baseball game wafting through the open windows. And after a full day of making mud pies in dirty feet, looking at crawdads in the swollen ditches after a thunderstorm, and getting squirted with the hosepipe behind the house, I remember climbing into bed beside my open window, resting my head on the sill, and staring up into the starry night, praying for a breeze to lull me to sleep. That was summer.
Nowadays, we rarely see lightnin’ bugs in our yard. (Maybe they’re moving away from the city like everyone else.) My kids wouldn’t know what a Mason jar was if they tripped over it. I don’t allow my children to ramble around the neighborhood on their bikes because this mean world scares me. I’m too busy for a garden and wouldn’t know how to correctly cook fresh beans without some serious internet research. My family rarely gets to sleep in, and my son and daughter both would be perfectly content to sit in an air conditioned room watching the Disney channel all day. To them, field trips to the museum and playing dodge ball in the gymnasium mean summer. And as sad as it is, they think it's completely normal to head inside before dark to get a bath because 6:30am comes early, and tomorrow is library day. It almost makes my heart hurt.
I wish my children could truly appreciate what the "lazy days of summer" are all about. I try to steer away from being too sentimental or nostalgic for days gone by, but what I wouldn't give to go back for one day to the kudzu and potato salad-filled summer days of my childhood to leisurely eat a popsicle on the front porch steps with my best friend, Missy. That being said, there is one thing that I would change about my childhood that would make the memory all the more sweet, something I only dreamed of during those dog days of July and August: Central Air.