Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Around the Corner

Looks like summer has arrived -- or has nearly arrived, varying from one section of the country to another. Summer has always been very special to me.

First, summer meant the end of the school year. The local swimming pool opened on Memorial Day and liberation was in the air. We could wear shorts without appearing strange.

Our family cooked on the grill, a backyard practice that was still in its infancy in the 1950s. Recently I recalled that as early as the 1940s, some homes had outdoor "barbecue" brick stoves used for cooking. These structures usually burned wood and had metal grates suspended above the fire which allowed cooking on metal surfaces. This process was in its infancy at the time. I remember when our family got our first metal grill, a small device with an adjustable grill which cooked over charcoal briquettes. My father cooked a mean burger and we even experimented with an occasional chicken, careful that it didn't get charred.

Then there were other summer treats. Potato salad, watermelon, Popsicles and ice cream. The local Dairy Queen used to close during the winter months. It's re-opening each spring seemed exciting and that first curly-topped cone was so special. How about going to the drive-in to eat? We had an A&W and Dog'N'Suds in our town. What a treat to go somewhere and eat from the car. How about going to the drive-in theatre? Many towns across the country -- including our small town -- had a drive-in theatre where the entire family could watch a movie from the car. Sometimes we would take our own treats to eat during the movie and sometimes we would visit the concession stand. Drive-ins were fun and rather inexpensive. Of course, the weather could be uncomfortably warm and we could hear conversations from neighboring cars. The trick of listening to the dialogue through a tiny speaker hooked on the window was not always easy. But it was a very special event for anyone who had these experiences.

Nearly every summer during the 1950s brought some new fad. These fads were usually must-haves for kids, inexpensive items like Hula Hoops, that we had to possess to be cool. Remember Hula Hoops? Remember those striped beach balls that inflated with a short clear plastic stem that then folded over to seal the ball? How about inflatable plastic swim rings and air mattresses? Your first set of sunglasses? Suntan lotion? Oversized beach towels with funny pictures? How about white canvas "sailor" hats? New sandals or Keds? The latest swimsuit style?

Summer in the 1950s also meant the threat of polio. Wikipedia indicates that "In 1952 and 1953, the U.S. experienced an outbreak of 58,000 and 35,000 polio cases, respectively, up from a typical number of some 20,000 a year." In our little town, there were several children who developed polio and even some who died. I was quite small but a little girl who used to visit neighbors and play with my brother and me contracted polio and died soon afterward. We didn't attend the funeral but a few days later we visited the cemetery to see her headstone. It was a very sobering event and we realized full well that warm weather brought the risk of polio. A few years later, we were all relieved with the arrival of Dr. Salk's vaccine.

Summer in the Midwest also brought the threat of strong storms including tornadoes. Our community has had very few severe storms over the decades, but as the news constantly reflects, storms still occur during the summer -- often quickly and with devastating destruction. I remember taking shelter in our basement, hearing the tornado sirens sound and the relief when the storm had passed. These events remind us of the importance of being prepared for any emergency.

Summer also meant the Fourth of July festivities, parades, fireworks and picnics. Would the fun ever end? Then they began to appear -- the dreaded announcement of Back-to-School sales. Oh no. Summer was going to end! How could we ever return to the boring classroom? What would the new teacher be like?

Oddly enough, as fall neared and we confronted our fate, somehow school began to look enticing. Another year. Fresh challenges. Seeing friends again, perhaps meeting some new people. It might not be so bad after all.

Summer was a rather fleeting experience, just a few weeks of sunshine and frivolity. Then we were on to another year. One experience ended and another would arrive. We knew each segment of life would end and the cycle would repeat. Summer was lovely while it lasted and its memories endure still.

Enjoy your summer.

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