Dreams really do come true. Keep dreaming!
For a number of years, my siblings and I belonged to the summer recreation program in town and played various sports, like tennis and other assorted games. There were morning programs and lessons, and when the town’s noon whistle blew, that signaled it was lunchtime. In fact, wherever we were when that whistle blew, since it could be heard all over town, it was our signal to go home. The recreation program also had afternoon activities too, and once a week, all the kids who participated in the program, grabbed their towels and swim suits and swimming caps (girls couldn’t go in the pool without one) to the grade school and got bussed to Marshfield to go swimming. Back then our town didn’t have a public swimming pool.
We either walked the 4 or 5 blocks to Red Arrow Park, where the recreation program was held, or if we got lucky, we took one of the bikes. We had 3 bikes in our family. Although to be honest, with the age spread in our family, seldom if ever would all 11 kids have been vying for those 3 bikes all at the same time. But it still was a challenge to get one, as they were first come, first served. That is, unless someone hid it before coming in the house for lunch. None of the bikes had any speeds, just peddle power. The little one was blue and we efficiently called it the little bike. The other two were larger bikes, one was blue and one was brown and we called them … wait for it, the big bikes. The big bikes had big fat seats and big fat tires and I remember they took substantially more peddle power than the little bike.
Just about the only thing that could go wrong with them was when the chain fell off or you got a flat tire or a tire just needed some air. Chet’s Gas Station was just over the rail road tracks and only a couple of blocks from our house. I especially loved when the guy named Jim was working. When he wasn’t pumping gas or checking the oil or checking the pressure on customer tires, he’d sometimes buy me a soda (we called it pop back then) or give me a candy bar or just let me sit there for a while and talk. If I was having a problem with my bike, he’d willingly try to figure out what the problem was. If the tire was low, he’d help me fill it with air, and if the leak persisted, he’d stick the wheel in a big metal pan of water to find the hole or puncture and then go through the whole process of patching the leak with a black piece of rubber he’d cut out to fit it and brushing the patch with some special glue from a can, I’d be good to go. I can’t remember what we talked about and I don’t think he ever charged me for patching the tire. I seldom, if ever had any money, but I always remember him being nice to us kids. Interestingly enough, years later, his oldest son married my oldest sister.
Of course just because it was summer didn’t mean we didn’t have chores. We always had chores. There were a lot of dishes and they were always done after every meal. We very seldom (except for picnics) used paper plates and we also had no electric dishwasher. Our dad got a kick out of saying, ‘Why do we need a dishwasher? We already have 7.’ Notice he didn’t say 11, just 7. Not surprisingly, none of the girls in my family found any humor in his words.
There were always clothes in some stage of cleaning that needed attention too. They either needed to be sorted or washed or hung up on the clothesline (weather permitting) or taken down from the clothesline or folded or put away. We even did a lot of ironing and in the days before permanent press, clothes that required ironing needed to be sprinkled and rolled up and then ironed in a very timely manner. My mother was very organized and had a system well in place by the time I was old enough to iron. Once I had mastered hankies and pillow cases, I moved to aprons, and then shirts and dresses.
My oldest three sisters also had official jobs like working as a summer girl for a family in a Chicago suburb, as an assistant for the dentist in town, and at the drug store. I remember dreaming of someday being able to work at the drug store. I thought working at the soda fountain or working the cash register seemed like the perfect jobs to me. For the rest of the girls, there were babysitting jobs…lots of babysitting jobs. I remember starting to babysit when I was 10 and my hourly wage at that time was $.50 per hour. But later with experience and the promise of early retirement none of us girls would work for less than $1 per hour. And for quite a few years, my two older brothers had newspaper routes too.
Another favorite family summer activity was carload night at the drive-in movie theater in Marshfield…and my dad got his money’s worth. In the days before microwave popcorn (and microwaves) my Mom or an older sister would stand at the stove and make pot after pot of fresh popcorn made in oil, sometimes with added butter, and always with added salt. We’d bring a couple of large paper grocery bags with us, and I’m guessing plenty of napkins, and off we’d go. I cannot remember the name of any movie that we saw, except I do remember one time that Bob Hope was in one of them. I thought it was a grand adventure. I loved how the speaker hooked onto my dad’s window and the sound came out of it into our car. I remember sometimes not being able to see very well, especially when the windshield started getting fogged up, and sometimes an occasional pesky mosquito got in the car, but with an efficient number of arms to swat at it, it wasn’t pesky for long. But the biggest challenge for me, even to this day, was just trying to stay awake to make it through the whole movie.
Every 4th of July we were thrilled to watch the fireworks in town, but also sad that the sparklers (and the fireworks) never seemed to last long enough.
I remember the childhood joy of swinging on the swings and pumping my legs harder and harder as I sailed back and forth through the sky. In some ways, my stomach tickled like I was on the best carnival ride and I used to imagine what it would feel like to fly.
My older sisters knew all kinds of wonderful skills that they willingly passed down to the younger sisters along the way. We’d weave bracelets and wreaths out of freshly picked clover. And then moved on to weaving long chains out of paper gum wrappers…intertwining the various flavored wrappers and making really colorful paper chains, always a little more predominant with the color of a favorite flavor of gum.
Rainy days might keep us inside, but I always loved the sound of the thunder rumbling and the drops of rain hitting the roof or the metal rain gutters. I imagine our mother was even happier than we were when the rain stopped and we could once again go outside. There were generally plenty of puddles and patches of available mud afterwards. How I used to love to squish my bare feet and toes through the rain soaked mud. Of course it required spraying off the mud with the hose and wiping my feet on the grass to dry them off before I’d be allowed back inside.
Our yard was often the destination place for many of the neighborhood kids, since we played games outside during the day and also at night until dark, or until our mother’s flickering of the outside porch light beckoned us inside. In my mind I can still hear the much younger and enthusiastic voices of my siblings laughing and calling out to each other and yes, sometimes bickering over the rules or balking over if they really got tagged or not. I’m not sure of the official names of most of the games, or if they even had official names, but we tended to call them by some of the words associated with what we did or what we said when we played them. There was:
I don’t remember if the summer was already in full bloom or if it had already started to wind down when the Lady Foresters had their annual picnic. My mom was a member of this church group and every summer they had a picnic. I couldn’t tell you a thing about the meal, except that the tables were set up outside in front of the church and it was probably typical picnic food. But the two things I remember the most were the cases of little bottles of soda pop and the abundant ice cream bars they served for dessert. We seldom if ever had any pop or ice cream bars in our house, so both of these items along with the picnic were something we all looked forward to all year. My brothers were forever competing with each other about something and I can remember them for days afterwards proudly discussing the number of sodas and ice cream bars they had eaten. Even though the bottles were small, the numbers were usually rather staggering.
One thing I do remember was how we always loved the summertime. I still do to this day. And even though a new school year would be beckoning on the horizon, we were never ever bored and enjoyed every single minute of our carefree, no homework and no early bedtime or wakeup, to its absolute fullest. Now, isn’t that how life is meant to be lived? We sure thought so. I still do.