Summertime is almost gone, but not necessarily the hot days. They seem to hang on, just like they know they must soon come to an end. Many of the things we spent the winter dreaming of doing when hot weather came remain undone. The long, long days just don’t seem to last long enough to get around to everything. It hasn’t always been that way. I can remember a time when the world didn’t move so fast, and we were satisfied with a little less than the best. I call them the good old days, and I could probably get some argument on this.
Those summers were filled with more excitement than can be found on all of the television soap operas combined. I like to think of them as childhood out-of-school-days, iced tea and watermelon days; the early morning and late afternoon in the old neighborhood swimming pool days. It was a time of tents in the back yard, and the smell of candles burning within those canvas or burlap walls. Outside the tent, roasting over a bonfire, were big ears of corn “borrowed” from a neighborhood farmer’s cornfield, or freshly grubled potatoes, roasting in the glowing ashes. All of this for an evening meal by a tent-side campfire, or an early morning feast of ripe watermelon cooled by the overnight shower of dew.
These were the times of inexpensive entertainment. An entire Saturday afternoon could be spent in the local movie house following the adventures of Buck Jones, Ken Maynard, Hopalong Cassidy, Tim McCoy, and that fighting little figure named Bob Steele. And occasionally the audience was treated to the romantic singing of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers; all of the above, plus a Porky Pig or a Mickey Mouse comedy, for the price of 10 cents. What a time to live and enjoy life!!!
Entertainment was not expensive because kids did not expect the world. Entire families could find happiness in an afternoon game of croquet, or a good game of country horseshoes, where ringers counted five points and leaners three. If one topped a ringer, that player was awarded 10 points. The closest shoe got the point, even if it rolled a mile away from the pole.
Many hot summer days were spent by youngsters on the riverbank, hunting and capturing snakes that had crawled onto warm rocks to soak in the sun. This was when I learned that snakes, after being killed, lived to wiggle until sundown. It was during these hot childhood summer days that I learned too, that 17-year locusts didn’t necessarily arrive exactly every 17 years. There seems to be a crop almost every year. Some years they come in droves, and the noise of one multiplied by millions is ear-shattering. What graduate of the ’30’s does not remember catching a June bug, tying a string around its leg, and sending it off in flight, guided by its captor?
Times were hard all over back then, but kids seemed to make it through, and were stronger for it. If the evening meal consisted of scalded lettuce and bacon crumbles, cucumbers, hot biscuits smothered in thickened gravy, the kids were not discouraged. To this day, I like a good slab of crisply fried sowbelly. An occasional can of sardines, eaten with soda crackers, or a jug of freshly churned buttermilk with little yellow specks of butter floating on top are what I consider country eating. Times were tight, and like these times we are living in today, there were those who strayed away from the foot of the cross. Chicken thievery was comparable to today’s car thievery, except the punishment was harsher. I repeat, what a time to live and enjoy life!!
-Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.