When I was a kid, summers were a rough and tumble affair.
Each glorious day was greeted with the anticipation exclusive to childhood. If I concentrate very hard, I can almost still feel it.
After a breakfast of brightly colored and sugary cereal, running high on the ensuing sugar rush, my playmates and I were unleashed upon the sunny streets. There, the stink of yet uncollected garbage collided with the floral breeze of the mock orange that thrived in my tiny front yard, creating a pungent blend of sweet and sour that if I sniff today, rockets me right back to Brooklyn in July.
|The memory of the aroma of the Mock Orange brings tears to my eyes.|
Contrary to popular belief, our days were not unstructured--we had our own standards and routines. Dressed for duty in cotton play clothes and summer sneakers, some of us sported the distinctive blue status rectangle of Keds on the backs of our shoes. I was a PF Flyer girl—something years of therapy couldn’t erase and, if I’d lost the battle with my mother on a dreaded “pedal pushers” morning, it could be a dark day despite the radiant sunshine.
Unfortunate wardrobe choices were forgotten once the group convened. Lucky to have a household of kids next door, we were often joined by friends from down the street in either direction and we’d choose our games depending on the assemblage. No one would look for us until lunch time.
Freedom was ours.
When we were very little, time might be spent floating sticks competitively in puddles that had formed after an overnight rain. Or we’d take our “route” which meant climbing over a prescribed course involving ledges, walls and fences. Feet mustn’t touch the ground or you’d be “out” and this game meant lots of injuries.
Often, by evening, we’d sport a patchwork of bandaids and be smeared with various antiseptics. Most mothers preferred brown pigmented peroxide and Mercurochrome which was red as blood while my mother chose colorless approaches like Bactine and witch hazel. No one used bug spray and we were often bedaubed with Caladryl as the mosquitoes celebrated the succulence of our youth. Sunscreen was also unheard of and by summer’s end, we were well-browned.
We played games called “Johnny, May I Cross Your Golden River” and “Green Light Red Light 1-2-3” as if our lives depended on it and there was never a day without a fresh hopscotch board carefully drawn on the sidewalk using the pavement squares as a guide.
|The configuration we drew|
was different but you get the idea.
We didn’t use chalk. We used a variety of plaster chunks we’d scavenged near construction sites, unconcerned that we might be releasing toxic materials into our lungs, tossing pebbles into the squares again and again until it was time for games played with a pink Spalding ball.
“Stoop Ball” meant tossing the ball against stone steps or we’d place a penny on a sidewalk crack and bounce it back and forth, trying to hit the coin. These games were catalysts to conversation and we’d chatter and gossip about the things that mattered: what flavor ice pop we’d buy later, was Davy Jones was cuter than Mickey Dolenz (obviously) and how, in the name of good God, did Mary Poppins get all that crap into her bag.
|When it lost it's bounce, we'd refresh it by rubbing it on the concrete. We'd|
have to buy a new one every few weeks,
Interrupted by lunch, we wore no watches but knew when we were due home thanks to apparently innate homing devices and were rarely late for meals. We’d run home to eat, refreshed by strategically placed box fans and linger in un-air conditioned apartments. Window shades might be drawn halfway to block the heat as we washed down our sandwiches with Hi-C or Kool Aid.
“July” will continue after lunch and next time I see you here at “Susan Says….” Until then, enjoy the summer!