A story in this morning's Wall Street Journal coupled with our family vacation of last week put me in a reminiscing mood--thoughts of summers long past and how different those summers were compared to today's summers as an adult, father and grandfather.
This morning's Journal article lamented the difference between those long-ago summers for we Baby Boomers and the summers of today's youth, and how we made those summers of the '60s seemingly last forever.
My summers, growing up, were spent outside. What was there to do inside? Absolutely nothing given three (count 'em, three) television channels and absolutely no distractions that even sniffed at the pull of today's computer-tablet-gaming consoles. Being inside also offered little relief from the heat given the lack of air conditioning throughout homes of that time--room air-conditioners were a luxury usually reserved for bedrooms.
If I wasn't playing "war" with kids in the neighborhood, then I was throwing a ball up in the air as high as I could, trying to emulate the tall fly balls seen on the Baseball Game of the Week on Saturdays. (Yes, kids, back in the day there was only ONE televised game per week.) My weapon of choice in the games of reconstructing World War II battles was a fake Thompson submachine gun as that was the equipment used by the squad in Combat!, a much-watched TV series of the time.
On the weekends, time was spent helping my father or grandfather pick fruit in our orchards with the soundtrack of baseball playing in the background on the portable AM radio. The ubiquity of Harry Caray was a part of the audio memories of my youth, supplemented by Merle Harmon, the radio voice for the lowly Kansas City Athletics. My dad was a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan and our radio in the yard, or in the car, was permanently tuned to a station that picked up Caray's voice doing play-by-play, in between plugs for Budweiser, "the King of Beers."
As I aged and we moved "into town," my summers were spent on my bike, constantly peddling to the municipal swimming pool or over to my best buddy's house where countless games of whiffle ball were played in his side yard. He was a Baltimore Orioles fan and our games featured the starting lineups of the Cards and Orioles with each of us batting lefty or righty, depending upon the player and his hitting style. If I had no friend available, I'd head to the public library where I would actually check out a book and read it, for summers were the time of reading programs and emulating my mother's voracious appetite for good books.
Each year, for one week out of the summer, we would pack up the family vehicle and head north--windows open, no air conditioning--up Highway 71 or 59, into northern Missouri and through Iowa to go to a Minnesota lake. The town names still stick with me--Maryville, Clarinda, Denison, Alexandria, Shenandoah, Fergus Falls, Pelican Rapids, Bemidji and Park Rapids. We would stay in cabins at lakes named Itasca, Mantrap and Fishhook.
I now know that our family vacations weren't much of a vacation for my mother. I cannot recall a meal that occurred outside our cabin--Mom would pack up a box of vegetables and gear from home in order to feed us out of the spartan kitchen in a remote lake cabin.
I contrast the summers of my youth with our recently completed beach vacation that featured airline and rental car as the travel of choice. Our beach home was air-conditioned and most every dinner was taken at a local restaurant. TVs in every room captured dozens of cable channels.
There's something I miss about those summers of long ago--car travel and two lane roads and restaurants with signs that simply said "Good Food;" pedaling furiously with my swim towel dangling dangerously close to the pedals; sunburned neck and arms and peach juice running down my hands from the fresh fruit both picked and immediately consumed; punks and firecrackers and bottle rockets; being with family and being...outside.