“Summertime and the livinʼis easy, fish are jumpinʼand the cotton is high.”
Some of my happiest childhood memories are connected to summer. It seems we spent nearly every wakingmoment outside. There was no air conditioning to lure us indoors, and no television.
There was a park a ten-minute walk from our house with a swing set with a slide and a child-powered rotating platform with handles to which we could hold on ʻfor dear lifeʼ while other kids pushed with all their might. The parkhad a baseball field for the bigger kids, and a softball field for those of us who were younger. There was a brookthat ran through the middle of the park.
We made good use of all of it, riding the swings as high as we could, sometimes standing up and bringing the swingabove the center bar, or standing face-to-face with another kid pushing as hard as we could, or somehow managingto get three or even four kids on one swing.
A little sand on the slide made for a faster ride, especially when you went down standing up and taking off your sneakers, going down in stocking feet, which we stopped doing after Jimmy Rawson fell backwards when he landed and split his head open on the bottom edge of the slide. He got seven stitches. We always counted the stitches kids got from a variety of accidents.
There was never any supervision. No parents hovered over us like nervous helicopters, and certainly no playground supervisors with a fun-killing set of rules and regulations. It was a neighborhood park to which we all walked and we made up our own rules, often arguing about what was allowed on the swing, slide and carousel, and whether or not a batter was safe at first. We participated in a democratic process – the biggest kids had the biggest influence on rules.
When we played softball we didnʼt call balls and strikes. We tried that one time – Bobby McCarthy was calling thepitches behind home plate and before the first inning was over he got in a fist fight with a batter who he called outon strikes. We never tried that again.
Many a softball game ended with a broken bat because there was only one bat, and I remembered one game thatended when the only ball we had got lost in the tall grass beyond the outfield.
The brook that ran through the middle of the park provided plenty of opportunity for jumping competitions. Therewere narrow sections where the jumping was easy, and there were wide sections, one in particular with mud on thegrassy banks on each side which we named ʻsuicidealley.ʼ Even if you made it across the water you were bound to slide and fall onto the mud.
We moved away from that town when I was in the middle of fourth grade, and though there was no neighborhoodpark there were plenty of places to play – a pond for swimming and fishing, and a sand pit with water clean enoughto drink as well as to swim without bathing suits, hoping no adult would come along and discover and kick us out.
Summerʼs easy livinʼsoon turned to opportunities to work on McCueʼs farm, planting pansies, picking string beans,watering and weeding for 35 cents an hour. Iʼm glad I grew up when I did.