Commentary

Recalling yesteryear’s lazy, hazy days of summer

asnow@newsobserver.comJune 7, 2014 

June is “bustin’ out all over” and soon thousands of schoolkids across the Triangle will be “bustin’” through the doors and diving headfirst into that best time of year: summer.

This realization prompted my editor to wonder how my childhood summers contrasted with those of today’s youngsters and what creative forms of recreation I enjoyed.

For most kids in the rural South, summer was more work than play. Play time was primarily limited to Saturday afternoon and Sunday after church. The term “summer vacation” didn’t exist.

Sometimes, on a Sunday when the children of my older siblings would be visiting, we’d pull an old buggy from the barn to the top of a long hill beyond our house.

With brother Warren steering, the buggy, loaded with screaming kids, would go hurtling down the hill. Sometimes he would lose control of it, and the buggy would bounce roughly across the ridges of the sweet potato patch, strewing children as it went.

Cow pasture “baseball” was a favorite game. Our homemade “baseball” consisted of a piece of rubber from an automobile tire tightly wound with tobacco twine.

We played in the pasture because it offered the only near-level area big enough to accommodate the bases. Ofttimes, we had to clear the “cow pies” from the base lines before the opening pitch.

As the teams were selected, I was usually the last chosen because of my almost total lack of athletic prowess. My stats on catching fly balls in the outfield were next to nil.

The Yadkin River ran alongside the farm. After attaching a rope to a riverbank tree, my brothers would swing out over the water and dive in.

Although I couldn’t swim, they would sometimes chase me down and toss me into the river, convinced that, like an animal, I would swim on instinct. They would then have to dive in and drag me out, half-drowned, choking and sputtering.

A tall tree at our back door was covered with some kind of vine.

We would climb the tree and slide down the carpet of vines, landing on the tall grass. We didn’t know that this was the predecessor of the slides so popular at today’s parks and school playgrounds.

As the youngest in the large family, I was a bit of a loner. I enjoyed wandering the woodland looking for birds’ nests and beaver dams.

I once stuck an inquisitive hand into a hole in an old apple tree. A red-bellied sapsucker within pecked a sizable wound in my hand.

“Baptist baptizing” was another favorite pastime.

At our swimming hole on Snow Creek, we’d imitate the ritual that occurred after summer’s soul-saving revivals at nearby Salem Baptist Church.

The sight of a bunch of stark-naked young boys being immersed while one raised his hand Heavenward and intoned, “We baptize thee in the name of” etc. before dousing the “convert” had to be great entertainment for motorists and pedestrians crossing the nearby bridge.

I suppose few of today’s kids have entertained themselves on a summer’s day by trapping bumblebees within the blossoms of morning glory vines. The challenge was not to get stung in the process.

There is a legend that if you can hold a bumblebee in the palm of your hand and not get stung, you’re in love.

I once took the bumblebee test to prove that what I felt for my first-grade sweetheart, Mary Kate Woodhouse, was the real thing. I went wailing home to my mother, who applied a poultice of baking soda and vinegar on the painful sting, not knowing I had done such a foolish thing.

I do not envy anyone’s boyhood, no matter how filled with golf, tennis, soccer or days stuffed with organized group activities, electronic games, exotic journeys, etc.

Across the acres of memories I often wander, recalling the barefoot days of which poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote in “The Barefoot Boy.”

Oh for boyhood’s time of June,

Crowding years in one brief moon...

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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