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Monday, June 11, 2012

Dandelion Summers - a Baby Boomer's Memories

In my memories of childhood, summer stretches out like a lazy cat on a porch long, warm, and relaxed. It wasn’t that we had nothing to do. We all picked strawberries at our neighbor's farm, and we had our chores. There were weeds to pull in the vegetable garden, green beans to snap so Mom could can them in Mason jars, and plenty of other little jobs. Whining about boredom could lead to things like being handed a rag and a pan of warm water and baking soda solution to wash the painted woodwork around the doors and windows of our old house.

The summers when I was old enough to have a bicycle and a bit of freedombut young enough to not yet know the turmoil of pubertystand out as the highlights of my childhood. I think of those times while walking on the hill above a park in Tacoma. Floating up to me in the evening air, come the quintessential sounds of summera bat hitting a ball, distant cheering, whistles and applause.

In spite of my life lessons in physical work and responsibility, I enjoyed plenty of afternoons on an old quilt spread under a tree, reading my beloved library books, my mind in another world. I can still feel the soft cotton against bare suntanned legs and hear the leaves rustling above my head. I had time to daydream, look up at clouds and imagine what their shapes suggested.

We had a great homemade swing set, and we improvised other play equipment from such things as a couple of old oil drums and some long 2x12 planks of lumber. These could become everything from a “teeter-totter” to the tight rope in a circus act. We hung old blankets over the board to make tents, and used it to make a safe path through blackberries thickets, flopping it down through the brambles to part them, since the sweetest, juiciest and biggest berries always seemed to grow in the center.

That's me in the back, my brother Bruce with the hat, and some little girl named Debbie
sitting in the kiddy car I had regretfully outgrown. I wish I had that car now.
We ran barefoot and stepped on bees, fell down and got bruised and scraped, played kick-the-can and croquet on the front lawn, drank lemonade out of brightly colored aluminum tumblers, and ate Popsicles Mom made herself in Tupperware molds. There were trees to climb, bugs to catch, bikes to ride, and camps to build. Across our hayfield the dirt path to the neighbor kids’ house was well worn and trampled hard, as children and dogs ran from one yard to the other all day long.
We enjoyed memorable family outings, long and short. They included picnics, all-day excursion to Mount Rainier where we picked blueberries, camping trips, and even a two month tour of the U.S. with our travel trailer. We often ate dinner on the patio. Except for swimming lessons, we had no organized activities. Mom never drove us anywhere all week. Imagine life without McDonald’s or computer games.

I look back and remember these summers as rich and enriching experiences, that had much to do with shaping the person I now am. Left to our own resources and imaginations we learned to think creatively, get along with each other, appreciate nature, believe in the possibility of anything we could dream, and that life was meant to be joyful.

It’s a nice Northwest summer day, but the kids are still in school. Their summer won’t be quite like the ones I remember, but I hope at least some things haven’t changed. I hope they play more outside than inside, scrape a few knees, get dirty, and that little freckled faces still grin as they stretch out grubby hands to give a smiling mother a bouquet of weeds. Have a dandy, dandelion summer!

(Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post I published in 2008, one many people enjoyed. It seemed just right for today.)

All photos and text Copyright 2012 Candace Brown. Please do not use without permission.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are no dandilions in my fathers yard any more. Such a shame. I thought of a few more of those Vashon summer memories though. Like...what it feels like to on a cold foggy morning to walk down the path in hopes of making your fortune picking berries. Then just as you ar settling in, you find the biggest berry in the patch with your left butt cheek. You know, the kind that squishes through your jeans and through your underware, and stains your butt for days. I can remember the mixed smell of dirt and berry juice forever under my finger nails.
Dockton swim lesson days were really kind of a lottery. Many days found us huddled around the wood stove in the cook shack, pouring rain, and water from our wet bathing suits creating mud on the cement floor. It was nearly impossible to change into dry clothes. Something always fell into a puddle left behind by a previous stall user. Usually my underware. The ones with the berry stains.
How could we forget Vacation Bible School. That was organized. Sort of. I still remember it as being torture to give up a perfectly good summer day to go back instide and study. Didn't we just go through 9 months of that? Persuit of fortune picking berries got me parolled from Bible School.
I didn't pick dandilions, but my dad make wine out of it one year. It was an abundant year for weeds, but the wine never came to full maturity. It seems my dad kept testing it, and by the time it should have been ready there was nothing left.
I always picked roses (of course). I would strip all of the peddals off the rose bushes, and then walk down the sidewalk pretending to be a flower girl in the most glorious wedding of the century. I was the envy of all the girls.
I still love to just sit on the porch and watching the butterflies. There are fewer butterflies now. We still watch the cars, but now they go faster and I don't know anybody. That is a game my Dad and his siblings played when they grew up in that same house 75 years ago. There were only a few cars an hour back then.
Here's my list of other Vashon summer memories: hiding in the tall grass while watching clouds for hours, playing kick the can or any other outside game until 10 (because it was still light), packing a peanut butter sandwich and taking off in the morning, and not be expected home until dinner (and never crossing the street), watching shooting stars, 20 cent matinees, penny candy, summer electrical storms, fire crackers, rolling driftwood logs to the water to ride on, jelly fish, sand dollars, and slugs. Slugs only came out when it rained. That was usually swimming lesson days.