"JUNE: SUMMERS IN THE FIFTIES WERE FUN!"
Seems as if it was just December! The older you become, the faster the time goes—like in the blink of an eye. Now it’s the second day of June which is hard to believe. I believed it when I was a kid for that meant out of school and having an endless summer. That belief held on forever or perhaps I should say until a couple of years ago: Don’t know why it left all of a sudden but it did with a vengeance.
I always looked forward to June for it meant days at a pool, playing outside, catching the proverbial June bugs, sleeping late and waking up to a brand new day full of fun and magic. Most every day was spent with my grandparents on the west side for my parents and I lived in first South Charleston and then St. Albans. Both of my parents worked and I looked forward to my “Randolph Street” friends who were all around my grandparent’s house.
My friends and I would play red light, green light at night and sometimes sleep on my grandparent’s front porch—or one of their porches. No one bothered us. We were safe. We also played kick the can late at night right out in the street without a worry in our heads. No cellphones for they weren’t invented and we knew what time we had to be home—no one even had to call our names. We caught lightning bugs by the hundreds, put them in washed out mayonnaise glass jars and poked holes in the metal lid with a fork and carried those jars around in the yard. Did we ever get cut? Not that I remember at all.
We popped colored popcorn and thought it would be different colors but it wasn’t! Just plain old white. Ate popsicles one after the other and knew when the “ice cream man” was coming down the street in the day time. He wore a white shirt, pants and a hat and rode on what looked like a bicycle with big white covered metal box on the front.
When he stopped, we would all run to him [after first securing money from our grandparents or parents] and he would get off that thing, open up the white metal box and out came white smoke! Really it was hot ice and we knew what was underneath it: Ice cream! And it was in many forms such as in white- lidded cups, push up ice cream or sherbert or any form. And we devoured it right there on the spot in the street.
We had “fizzies” which were flavored tablets that looked like Alka Seltzer but were supposed to taste like Coke or root beer once you plopped one into a glass of cold water. Never cared for those for to me they tasted nasty but you know how peer pressure is. We also had those tubes of bubble stuff with a tiny straw: You took off the lid, put the straw inside the take your breath away gooey stuff and blew bubbles with it. I can still remember that smell—sort of like rubber cement only worse. Yes, we got big bubbles and hit them till they burst and started all over again. We drank pop out of glass bottles [real glass bottles and big ones] and saved them; played with the caps we took off.
The endless days produced a lot of creativity then. We’d get a quilt [with permission] or a blanket and throw it over the clothesline: That made a perfect tent in the backyard. Wonderful secrecy and fun till you had to come out for air. I couldn’t count the times that my friends and I did that. We also took clover and made chains out of them by tying one long stem to the other; some of us even made bracelets as well [I know you’re thinking it was me and you are right on that one.] When the boredom of that set in, a lot of us girls would get a glass jar and pick rose petals and other flower petals and add water: That made cologne or so we thought. Don’t think anyone ever wore it as it didn’t smell very good but it sure did look good all swirled around in that glass jar!
Time was spent playing hopscotch on the sidewalk or roller skating: We had metal skates that had a key you used to tighten the skates to your foot; there were leather straps that you buckled so the skates were tight. I think I skated around the block from Randolph Street to Tennessee Avenue to Wyoming Street to Pennsylvania Avenue and back at least a thousand times in my childhood for my grandparents lived in the first block of Randolph Street. Lots of times I was with friends and lots of times I was alone; no matter which, I glided on air!
We would go from one friend’s house to another and were always treated so nicely for we knew we had to mind. That fact was instilled in all of us from day one. The most fun houses were those where the mom would let us jump on the bed or make messes—we did have to clean those up! One of our most fun things to do was to chase the bug spray truck which seemed to run the streets on a weekly basis: We would all go running in the street right behind that truck as it spewed out white billowy clouds with fumes and we had no idea that those fumes were ddt--none.
Lots of June days were spent on my grandparent’s front porch: It was huge and covered. My girlfriends and I would cut out paper dolls or cut up material and pretend to sew [I never learned how to sew a lick!] or look at comic books—stacks and stacks of them. We also played jacks or pickup sticks if we got really bored. One of my favorite things to do was to catch a June bug bare handed and have someone tie a string to it! Then I would hold out that string and watch that June bug buzz and fly around till I finally took off the string and let it go. [There is no way I would ever do that now and besides I’m not sure what one looks like at this point in my life.] Sometimes the June bug took off with that piece of string! My girlfriends also did the same thing along with me and there were some boys around too who loved doing that!
Another favorite thing to do was to get rolls of caps and hit them with a rock or hammer on the sidewalk!
When night came and I was staying all night with my grandparents and was worn out from all that playing and doing, I had to take a bath. Their bathtub was a huge claw-footed tub: When I got in the water I felt like I was in some huge container with no top. Remember a big double hung window by the bathtub and there was no air conditioning then—just fans but no fan in the bathroom. The sweat would pour off of me while I was in the water and I had to use that reddish-orange Lifebuoy soap [the same kind that “Ralphie” had to have in his mouth in the movie, “The Christmas Story] and to this day I know that smell. Did I ever have it in my mouth? Yes once as I said a bad word and my grandmother made me sit on a chair in the kitchen with that awful soap in my mouth for five minutes—an eternity to a kid!
But back to the bathtub: Once I got out, I was wet but the sweat was running down my face. So much for a bath back then. Then came time to sleep and that was a major event for although there were three bedrooms in my grandparent’s house, I wanted to sleep with them. And it was hot! Remember my grandmother getting up out of bed, taking my hand and leading me either to the front bedroom or the back to see which was cooler. Guess what? Neither were despite the open windows—we just gasped for breath till finally we went to sleep.
When morning came, she would fix a huge breakfast, my grandfather would head off to work and it was another day of splendor and wonder. I’ll never forget the people across the street that had a koi pond: I’d look into that black water and see those fish and it was awesome. Awesome till one day I was alone, standing near the edge and fell in! Think everyone in the neighborhood heard my screams and someone rescued me. That was not splendor but it was wonderment in its worst form.
Those June days spent at my grandparent’s house were unforgettable. There really weren’t any rules or boundaries and creativity on kids’ part reigned—it had to for we had to entertain ourselves. We didn’t watch tv or stay inside—even if it rained, we were out in the street sloshing in puddles barefooted. On good days we ran, played and visited other people sometimes selling our pitiful potholders we had made on little metal looms—funny thing was that they looked big on the loom but once you got it off, it was more than tiny! I sold many for a quarter and felt sort of bad because those potholders didn’t look too good at all! Guess the buyers felt sorry for my friends or me—had to be the only reason.
I could go on writing about so many things I did as a child in June but if you, the reader, recognize any of these things from the past, you have your own list in your head. On my part it was a month of stubbed toes [that hurt like the dickens,] merthiolate that was a red liquid and put on hurts and stung till I screamed my lungs out or bee stings—I always managed to step on a bee. Never failed. But despite these pains, it was the best of times. It was never ending freedom and fun. We were safe and didn’t have to worry about people like today’s kids do: We even knew which house we could go to if we were afraid of something but that didn’t happen much.
Pity is what I feel for today’s kids: They will never know what it was like then at all for we live in a world gone haywire and therein is the shame of it all. I have told this story to countless former students of mine as well as my now teenaged grandchildren [with the exception of one grandson who is eleven] and none of them believed me at all. How could they in today’s world? But I told them that I was so lucky to have been a kid then and have passed on a lot of my experiences onto my grandchildren—hopscotch when they were young, clover necklaces, making cologne and smashing caps with rocks. May they pay it forward is my biggest hope and long live June!