Remembering Childhood Summers

looking back

By Sandra Dempsey Post

Spell out the word V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, and many baby boomers remember lyrics about “Put away the books, we’re out of school; The weather’s warm but we’ll play it cool; We’re on vacation, havin’ lots of fun.” Connie Francis introduced the popular song that went to #9 in the USA in 1962. It still enchants many listeners. Whether you liked Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966, or Summertime and the Living is Easy, 1968, by Ella Fitzgerald, or maybe Woodstock tunes from 1969, music can bring back memories and moments from decades ago. That leads to reminiscing about former or perhaps still current friendships, the joys of being out of school with added freedom, and recalling how summer seemed forever. The belief of having endless days to do exciting things lasted until right after the July 4th holiday when time picked up speed and summer vacation zoomed forward to conclusion.

How did you spend summers as a kid?  It’s a question filled with many answers, a few regrets, and likely more than a few wishes of wanting to return and relive a few days. Well, you can go back home again, and many of us have, but you cannot relive your childhood. Some people wouldn’t want to and others might carefully choose select moments and the joy of laughter at the memories. Let’s take a walk down Memory Lane mentally—we can’t do it physically, and relive those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” that Nat King Cole sang about in 1963. We can also peek into the lives of kids today and see some of their entertainment. Believe it or not, there are similarities between what young people of the ’60s enjoyed and what today’s more sophisticated, technology minded youngsters prefer.

One grandmother when asked about childhood memories responded enthusiastically. “I rode my bike in a pretty large area from my home and pinned playing cards to the spokes with clothes pins so it made a loud noise when I pedaled. When you had 6 or 7 kids doing the same, you could sure hear us coming down the street.”  Parents did not provide transportation “back then” like they do today. Granted it was a different world in many ways, but we learned to walk, ride a bike, take a bus, or figure out something fun closer to home. Play dates were not arranged and organized sports were minimal. There were no cell phones, texting, Alexa hadn’t been born yet, and financial awareness was taught at a young age. Candy after lunch might cancel out ice cream in the evening. It was a cash society, and treats were partially based on if you had the cash. Each generation thinks they had it worse than previous ones, but sometimes in looking back, you realize some advantages of “long ago” even if it happened just 15 to 20 years earlier. 

One very involved mother of three shared sweet memories of her growing up time in the Midwest. ” People didn’t have other places to be all the time like they do now. They were home, almost always. Our neighborhood was full of kids, and we played Ghosts in the Graveyard—it’s like hide and seek in the dark—and it was one of my favorites. I’d get scared, but I loved it. We rode our bikes on what we called the trails, going to McDonalds or to Super X to buy four for a dollar candy bars. We went to Walgreens for candy and then to Westlake Movie Theatre across from Northwoods Mall. I loved sleeping in, but I had a paper route so I’d do my route and then go back to bed and get up when I wanted to. We’d play outside, some of our friends had a pool in their backyard and we’d go swimming; we’d visit our parents’ friends who had kids our ages and we’d play with them while our parents talked; we’d play board games inside when it was too hot to be outside.”

Some girls went to Camp Tapawingo for Girl Scout camp, and families went to Racoon Lakes for camping. Picnics and baseball games were often part of Memorial Day or 4th of July celebrations. Some families went long distances for summer vacations and others vacationed closer to home. And some didn’t leave home but made creative efforts to find fun entertainment close by that was affordable and enjoyable. Some communities offered recreational activities for a minimal charge and children could enjoy games, hikes, field trips, and other entertainment. And some kids simply walked out their front door and with little effort found kids their age eager to play. 

A delightful 12-year-old, when asked some of his favorite summer activities, talks enthusiastically about going swimming, sleeping in without having to get up at a certain time, and the pleasure of making himself a “good breakfast” to enjoy without being rushed. He likes riding his bike to the Dairy Queen, (something this Grandma loved doing back in the 60’s, or my friends and I would walk).  He and his family went on vacation to an all-inclusive resort and he enjoyed steak for dinner “every single night.”   He loves what he calls Beach Day at Lake Michigan and enjoying the Indiana Sand Dunes. He plans to up his skills on his newly acquired Hoverboard, and even though he thoroughly enjoys the added freedoms in the summer, he misses school classmates and enjoys being with them when school resumes.

While many would say there was more freedom back in the day, today’s young people are exposed to many more questionable activities that often require parental monitoring. A perfect time for growing up doesn’t exist, but it’s likely that in looking back details and opportunities from our youth seem better than they did at the time we were living them. There’s something about the “good old days” that brings out the best in reminiscing.


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