Berry fields & bathing suits: nostalgia for summer freedoms

Some may commiserate with my recent feeling of wanting myself to shut up. It’s tiring being angry all the time about all the gazillion things to be irate about, to the point where I’m simply pissed off a large portion of the day. Pandemic fatigue has grown into hating anti-vaxers, who prolong the pain and put even the vaccinated at risk of illness or death. All the deadly side effects of Trumpazoid have swarmed and multiplied in a second plague, as deadly to people of color as COVID. The last blog post I wrote expressed my level of anger, quite well I believe. Maybe it was ending it with the pithy, “Fuck You,” as my feelings towards those who refuse to be vaccinated, who cite a reasoning only previously seen in the campy sci-fi films of the 1950s, with their foil paper robots and pointy boob bras on the alien space gals. Yeah, ridiculous.

But frankly friends, I’m bored hearing myself. And it’s tiring, mentally and physically. So I’m on strike. Not sure how long this strike will last, or what the other side’s bargaining chips are, but my pickets are out. Given that fact, I am going to further digress and, perhaps bore some, perhaps send others back to their summers of yore, when the realities of adulthood were still years away, and naivete was a precious gift not yet taken from us.

My very non-angry memories of nostalgic summers of yore are pretty much only good ones. Nothing bad happened in my childhood during those summers from the mid-60s to the early 70s. We were lucky. Dad was a blue collar guy, with mostly steady work as a bricklayer. Mom did his books and errands to the brick works, and raised six of us angel-monsters, then went to work when the youngest was nine.

Our glorious summers improved even more when Dad got us an above ground pool. We were in awe. It wasn’t a built-in pool, but it was our pool in our yard, and we could go in it whenever we wanted, except not before an hour after eating, and never in a thunder storm, Mom reminded us, envisioning ourselves on the pool bottom, drowning because our full tummies brought an early demise. There were poorer kids than us in the neighborhood, which we didn’t recognize at the time. Our pals joined us in the pool; other kids would climb a block wall and our fence and stare over it at us. They were envious, and I liked it. Going to a Catholic school where most of the kids had white collar Dads who were doctors and lawyers, it was cool being the “rich” kids in our neighborhood bubble. At school we were the ones who lived on the other side of the tracks from where they were, in their big houses with formal dining rooms and canopy beds.

My younger sisters and the neighborhood girls and I spent way too much time having “fashion” shows, one of us being the judge, using our pool towels over wet bathing suits. Barbies would come into play at some point when we got waterlogged, as well as walks to Paul’s Foodlane, a Mom and Pop store where we would get orange-cicles, Nutty Buddies, Big Hunks and Sugar Daddy suckers. Dad had built us a play house — there were five girls in our family and one boy — and we would go in phases where we’d spend time in it, pretending we were in a Little House on the Prairie story.

Because Mom did lots of canning in the summer, which helped maintain the budget, we’d go with her to Mt. Angel where she grew up and her siblings had fruit trees and huge gardens in their yards. We would get pears, peaches, cucumbers for pickles, and cherries, which filled mason jars that lasted all winter, and until the next summer. Berries that she got from U-pick places, where we’d help pick in the long rows of raspberries, strawberries and marionberries, became containers of jam, stacked in cupboards in the basement in colorful rows of sweetness, or lined up in tall stacks in an old freezer next to the dryer in the laundry room.

When there were thick bars of wax from canning left over, we got to take it to Cardboard Hill, rub the bottom of large pieces of cardboard with it, and slide down the grassy hillside in our neighborhood for hours on end. There was a burnt down house on the hill, and some people used the field to dump items like old lawn mowers and car parts, but we just made sure to use a slide path that didn’t get us into trouble. Nearby Cardboard Hill was our pal Jimmy Siband’s house. He was a rather mysterious kid but we hung out with him because there were certain benefits. He didn’t have a dad around, and his Mom worked, so he was by himself most of the day. These days his parents would be arrested because this was a six year old kid hanging out alone all day, wandering the neighborhood. He would get the cereal from his cupboard and share with us, like Sugar Smacks and Cap’t Crunch. Jimmy also turned us on to the joys of eating raw JELL-O powder from the box, a sweet, tangy thrill both for the taste and because it was illicit: our Moms never knew! They all wanted us out of the house, and my Mom would yell at us to “play outside!” Especially when we’d come in dripping from the pool or leaving a trail of dust like Pigpen after our neighborhood adventures.

In some regards we were hunter-gatherers. Fruit trees and wild food was everywhere in our little patch of “unincorporated Portland,” which meant no sewer connection and unpaved, rocky roads, despite being not too far from downtown Portland. Large blackberry fields meant unlimited berries, and I’d sneak out a tube of saltines and sit in the field making berry “pies.” Italian plum, cherry, apple and apricot trees provided fruit within reach of our dirty paws. Rhubarb grew in patches in several spots, and we even sucked the sugary sap out of some of the flowers.

And the summer seemed so darn long!! As opposed to now, as the well-seasoned woman I am, when summer races by so fast, it now just harkens that Christmas is around the corner.

Yeah, I was one of the lucky ones. A carefree childhood where we ran free with little adult supervision. I know my old-lady is coming out when I wonder if the screen-generations might be missing out on that freedom, especially given their even greater need to stay locked inside because of the pandemic marathon. All the playdates organized by parents; the gazillion soccer and other sports organized by parents; the phones in every kid’s pocket so their parents can constantly be in touch; the Netflix movies at their fingertips, and many video games with some pretty darn good violence, On-Demand.

But maybe it’s also preparing them for a workplace which is operated by and with technology that kids are simply being trained for in their youth. I’m sure they’ll be fine. I hope they’ll be fine. But I’m also sure of my gratitude for those innocent summers of independence and seemingly endless days of blue-sky adventures and sleeping under the stars in the backyard or on the many family camping trips.

Here’s to the idyll of childhood, blackberry-stained fingers and the thrills of Cardboard Hill!

From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast

For more from Lady Proverbs, go to her blog at PulayanaPress.com

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