There are two little boys working hard to wash cars on my street. They charge a ridiculously low price, but they seem to have a great deal of fun earning their money. They are about as close to being a modern version of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as two youngsters might be. It makes me smile to hear them laughing as they work and I find myself thinking back to lazy summer days of my own childhood.
Where I grew up and continue to live it is always hot in the summertime. Somehow I seem to notice it more than I did back then. I remember as a child racing outside each morning eagerly searching for other kids who might be ready to plan adventures for the day. I never knew exactly what to expect but there was never a dull moment on my street.
My mother was quite popular with everyone in the neighborhood because she brought out a huge thermos with a spigot each morning and placed it on a stool near the garage. She filled it with water and ice and set cups next to it for times when we got really thirsty. She often cautioned us to hydrate. We did not quite understand her reasoning back then. We drank the cool liquid to make her feel better without realizing that she probably prevented us from having heat strokes as we ran and rolled around on the grass.
Much like the little boys on my street today, we were always conspiring to come up with ideas for making some extra cash. We did little jobs for people, created shows that our parents would pay to see, and designed newspapers with the latest information about what everyone was doing in our little corner of the world.
We built forts and sprayed each other with the hose. Whenever someone turned on their sprinkler a horde of kids would converge in the yard to run back and forth through the spray. Nobody ever seemed to get mad when we came. In fact we always suspected that the adults turned on the showers just to allow us to have some fun.
There was bike riding and game playing and climbing trees. Sometimes when the temperatures reached their highest point we would all go inside our respective homes and lie in front of the windows in our bedrooms with the attic fans moving hot air across our faces. That’s when I would read the books that I had checked out from the bookmobile that came to the neighborhood just across the bayou from ours.
Other times we would meet our cousins at one of the city swimming pools. The lifeguards kept the crowds down so we only got to swim for an hour before we were ushered out while the next group came in. If we were lucky our moms let us goof around on the playground for a while, but most of the time the ladies were getting hot and wanting to get back home to take care of chores.
There was a place not far from our house called Peppermint Park. It featured an assortment of kiddie rides under a red and white striped canvas tent. There were boat rides and cars and even little airplanes. I never got to go there but I would often look longingly at the place dreaming of one day going there to find out if it was as much fun as it appeared to be.
When I got a bit older Astroworld opened up and my mom would treat us to a day of fun there once each summer. We arrived as they were opening the gates and stayed until they were shooing us out at the end of the day. It was a world unto itself where we forgot about any form of reality. I remember always feeling a bit strange when we walked across the big bridge that spanned the freeway and ended up in the parking lot near the Astrodome where Mama had left her car. It was like a shock to the system to end up back in the ordinary world.
Speaking of the Astrodome, my mother loved baseball and particularly the Houston Astros. She had a friend whose cousin was a manager for one of the teams in the National League. He sent her passes to get into the ballgames and she shared them with my mom who excitedly took us often to watch the hometown heroes. That was some really good fun there and it only cost us the price of parking and a bag of peanuts to go.
My mother was a sucker for drive in movies as well. All we had to do is suggest that a good feature was showing somewhere and she would hurriedly pack sandwiches, drinks and popcorn for our evening fare. We brought along our pillows to boost our height and also in case anyone got sleepy during the second feature. We had lots of drive in theaters near where we lived, but Mama usually chose whichever one had a special admission price for a whole carload. When we went to the Trail Drive In where my aunt worked she would wink us through and we got in free.
Sundays were the best because after church we always went to the beach to meet our aunts and uncles and cousins. We would spend the entire day splashing in the water, fishing, and watching the water skiers go by. I got many a terrible sunburn on those outings so it is little wonder that my skin is so damaged in my older age. Even knowing what I know now, I’d do it all over again. It was glorious.
The children are gathering under the shade trees in the yards around me right now. I like seeing them planning their games, setting up lemonade stands, and riding their bikes. I’m too hot to go outside to join them before the evening when the breeze here cools things down. I remember the joys of summer just watching those little ones and I feel young again. I never got to go to Peppermint Park and that’s alright. I can attest to having a blast just the way things were. My summers were so simple then and the kids on my street seem to be experiencing exactly the same kind of spectacularly unspectacular lazy days as I did. I suspect they are making memories that will one day make them smile as happily as I am doing now.