Crow’s Feet
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Crow’s Feet

When School Got OutWas When Summer Really Began For Kids

Crow’s Feet Prompt: Nostalgia

Jeanie, Gail, and Teddy playing on the swingset. Photo property of the author

Oh, how I envy those kids just getting finished with school today. To me and my siblings, the beginning of summer vacation always seemed like standing at the entrance to paradise. Just looking in wonder at all the treats and pleasures awaiting us. On the last day of school, we’d kick off our shoes, get out the shorts and tee shirts, and begin the months-long recess that was summer vacation.

Outside to the swing set. Then, let’s run down to the brook. Catch tadpoles, frogs and turtles. Play with the dog. Pick flowers, strawberries, blueberries. Hike the edge of the brook that wound through our South Jersey woods, pretending to be Ramar of the Jungle, (Remember Ramar?) swishing the brush with a stick to push snakes and dangerous critters out of the way. Alligators? Tigers?

For most of the summer, I went barefooted and developed nice sturdy calluses on my feet. In those days, our mom didn’t drive and dad took our only vehicle to work every day, so we had to walk wherever we wanted to go. We’d walk the mile or so to the corner store, called Conover’s Store to buy candy, often barefooted. Sometimes I wore shoes, though I remember more vividly the times I didn’t … the pavement could get awfully hot and you had to hop around to the side of the road in spots where the sun was shining.

In those days it was pretty safe to walk our road. We knew all the people living on the street — West Brook Lane, in Galloway Township, New Jersey — and any one of them would help us if we needed it. They knew our parents or at least our neighbors across the street, to whom most of them were related in those days.

A little further away was Endicotts Store where mom could buy groceries and we usually got popsicles — creamsicles or fudgesicles were my favorites. The Endicotts were kind neighborhood merchants. They would often slip mom a dozen eggs or bread that was nearly out of date. We never ran a tab or anything, but money was scarce.

Sometimes Mrs. Endicott would hire us to pick strawberries for her to sell in the store from her big patch outside. Ten cents a pint, I think. Some days if we had a doctor or dentist appointment or mom needed to go to the bank or a store, we would walk the three-to-four miles into Absecon with mom sometimes pushing a baby carriage. We walked everywhere.

On hot days we got out the lawn sprinkler, turned on the water and ran through it, or made a big aluminum tub of water to run in and out of. Just getting wet helped with the heat. Then mom would make a big pitcher of KoolAid and we played all day — running in for a drink and then back outside, I can still hear the screen door banging.

On days when it was really hot, we might be able to get dad to drive us to the beach after he came home from work, if he wasn’t too tired and if the water temperature was at least 70 degrees. Then we had wonderful times at Brigantine Beach. Dad swam really well and often pretended to be an alligator and grabbed our legs, making us scream. Or helped us make sand castles. He liked the beach and believed the ocean was the only body of water clean enough for us to swim in. So we went to the ocean every time we could wheedle him into it.

Playing with dad at Brigantine Beach. Photo property of the author.

I also remember quiet times, like lying on my stomach across two kitchen chairs reading a Nancy Drew book with a basket of fresh tomatoes and a salt shaker in reach. Or hiding under brush on the edge of the woods to watch birds and take notes about their habitat. I liked to get up early and go outside by myself to listen to the birds wake up. Still do.

Of course, there were chores. We were all supposed to make our beds every day, according to dad, then help mom with the dishes or whatever she needed to do that day. I don’t think I minded helping mom. She made everything fun. And I liked doing most of the things she did. Hanging wash, ironing, cooking, baking. I liked to do dishes unless I had to do them with my sister. Then we joined together in hating that nightly after-supper job.

What I hated most were the chores dad assigned, like washing the car, or worst of all filling in holes in the driveway with wheelbarrows full of dirt from the back of our property. Every morning before leaving for work he would proclaim. I want you kids each to get ten wheelbarrows full of topsoil from the back of our lot and bring it up to the driveway to fill in the holes. Urgh. We hated that job. I think I thought about it way more than I did it. I often found an excuse to avoid it. I remember my brother wheeling the thing with only a shovelful of dirt. I remember filling mine up really full a few times and having the whole thing tip over. I might have done some but don’t ever remember doing ten. I remember a lot of scurrying, trying to look busy as it neared time for dad to come home.

After a month or so of fun, when I had read every book in sight and done all the normal summertime stuff, perhaps I would start to get creative and begin to think about starting some kind of club, or maybe a new business. I planted a pack of seeds and eagerly waited for the carrots to grow so I could sell them. Or decided to have a gift shop and began knitting things and making handmade cards. Or I’d conscript my sister to join me in a science club, or a girls club, or a holiday club. Some years I sent for real Christmas cards from a company that promoted door-to-door sales and went up and down our street selling them to our neighbors.

We always tried to have a circus in our backyard. But the only animals we could find, besides whatever pet dog we owned at the time, were box turtles and hop toads. We had a nice little brook, but it mostly had water striders and an occasional tadpole in the spring. Most of the time it was a futile search for animals. If we caught a few turtles we’d make them a pen of concrete blocks or bricks, or pieces of wood we found lying around, but most of the time they had escaped by morning. Oh well, no circus today.

The other thing we didn’t have in southern New Jersey was rocks. There were no rocks of any kind. There were pebbles in the gravel on the road but that was it. In our yard, if you dug down about three feet you came to water. No rocks ever. If we took a trip to North Jersey, or to Connecticut to visit relatives we collected rocks. Any kind of rock was exciting. We used to buy rocks in souvenir shops. Rocks were a rarity.

The other thing that often happened in summer is that our cousins would come to visit. My whole family of five girl cousins had moved to Florida when I was about 6. It was awful for us, as we could have had such good times had they lived nearby. But we ended up taking a family trip to visit them every February and sometimes they came to stay with us while their parents visited other relatives in NJ. Then we would have some fun. Exploring, playing games, bubble gum contests, walking home from the store licking a sugar daddy pop. Going to the boardwalk with them. Our parents always were more generous when there was company so we got special treats. And oh, how sad, when the time came for them to go home.

Toward the end of August, we started thinking about school, the new harder work in the next grade, the new teacher, and what our classmates would be like after a whole summer apart. Dad would drive us to the discount store in Atlantic City to pick out a few dresses, a new lunch box, and maybe a pencil box or new crayons. Then we started to get excited about going back to school.

I sure hope at least some of the kids getting out of school this week anticipate the long stretch of time away from structure and rules. That they take some time to daydream or sit around watching things. And, of course, think of some good fun to get involved in.

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