By Joe Rector
Ah, summer! Is anything comparable to it? Plenty of hot weather comes to the point so that some folks long for the snowy months. Gardens and flowers burst forth in exhibition of our green thumbs. Most of all, the kids are out of school and are overcome with joy about their temporary freedom. On that last point, some parents might hang their heads in disappointment and dread. I get that because I remember the days with my own two children during summer.
When Jim and I were young, we had dreams of all the activities that we’d enjoy during the summer. We just knew that this was the year that trips to the beach, mountains, and amusement parks would occur. The television commercials told of the fun families could have at Rebel Railroad, Ghost Town in Maggie Valley, and Gatlinburg; Jim and I couldn’t wait to travel to those places.
As things turned out, most of our summer vacation was spent at Route 18, Ball Camp Pike. Our time was filled with pulling weeds in the garden, cleaning house, and trimming grass around the flower gardens. On an occasion or two we did travel to a tourist trap, but for the most part, summer vacation meant staying home.
We became couch potatoes when cartoons or other kid shows aired. Trips to the front yard to throw the baseball almost never ended well. Our skills weren’t that great, and before long errant throws flew into the hayfield on the east or buried into the razor-covered limbs of an out-of-control rambling rose bush. Summer heat caused tempers to soar, and before long, we’d throw down the gloves and fight and roll around the ground for a while, at least until one of us began to cry from the pain from the other’s fist.
Mother spent most summers going to school to earn her B.S. degree at U.T. and we boys were left on our own, something that was common back in the day. We were to stay in the yard, but sometimes the temptations overwhelmed a boy’s better judgement. Jim and I rode bikes on the road. We might encounter a couple of cars, dogs, or turtles. A bike wreck on asphalt, however, proved hard to explain. We also rode the back roads with other boys and climbed Baldy, a big hill not far from the house.
Our biggest treats during the summer came when we went swimming. We traveled to Concord Pool for the day. The place was full. Other pools we visited included the big ones in Alcoa and Oak Ridge. We arrived early and stayed the entire day. Mother packed a picnic basket and spread a blanket in the shade. We boys hit the pool and stayed except to eat a sandwich. I know that she grew weary hearing us yell, “Watch this, Mama!” At the end of the day, we climbed into the car and fought off car sickness brought on by swallowing too much pool water. At least for one night, Mother and Daddy got some peace and quiet because we boys hit the sack early.
By the end of the summer, the most exciting days came when we made trips downtown to buy a couple of shirts and pairs of jeans for the coming school year. During evenings, we organized school supplies and practiced our handwriting or multiplication skills. The first day of the school year came after Labor Day, and we woke up early and excited on that morning.
Children have shorter summers now, but they have many more things to entertain themselves during the hot days. Still, they complain, “I’m bored!” I’m not so sure today’s youth could bear even a week of our summers. The breaks are still long, the new wears off, and parents and children both agree that summer wasn’t so grand. It’s those of us who still have to work, even if on a part-time basis, who wish for the return of free summers. Maybe we’ll find them when we can retire for good.