"Summertime, and the livin' is easy. Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high . . ."
If only I could experience summertime as an 8-year-old boy in the American South again! The livin' was indeed easy, as far as I knew. Who needed air conditioning and computers and wide-screen television? We had shade trees and rope swings and acres of woods to explore.
Summertime was long walks down dusty dirt roads in search of blackberries and wild hog plums -- and on rainy days it might be sliding down red clay banks all day long and washing off in the river before heading home.
Summertime was a daily uniform consisting of precisely two garments -- a pair of cut-off jeans and a pair of step-ins. There was no need for a shirt or shoes and every kid in town would be "dark as a wild Indian" by Labor Day -- and an occasional stumped toe or foot full of sandspurs was a small price to pay for being able to squish your toes in the mud and traipse through a creek all morning in search of salamanders and crawdads.
Summertime was tomatoes right off the vine sliced directly onto mayonnaise-laden white bread for lunch -- liberally seasoned with salt and pepper, of course -- and vegetables right out of the garden for supper every night -- okra, squash, pole beans, Silver Queen corn, purple hull peas, butterbeans -- with Vidalia onions on the side and cucumbers cut up into vinegar. You can have your prime rib and fancy restaurant meals. I'll take any three of the above any day, especially if there was hot buttered cornbread to sop up the pot liquor -- and there always was.
Summertime was sitting on the front porch in the cool of the evening, shelling peas and shucking corn and visiting with the neighbors. It was chasing lightning bugs and lying in the grass looking up at the stars. You could see billions of stars in the Southern night sky in 1960. Now you see about two-dozen on a good night.
Summertime was digging for worms and fishing for catfish, any time you wanted, without having to have someone take you. If the fish weren't "jumpin'" it didn't matter. It was fun sitting on the bank of the river holding a cane pole whether your float bobbed or not. If you got tired of fishing you could skim rocks across the water or go below the dam and wade on the shoals -- as long as you didn't do it alone.
Summertime was watermelon cuttings on the back porch. Old newspapers served as plates. I ate mine with a knife and wanted lots of salt on it. I still do. My sister picked her seeds out. I spit mine. I still do.
Summertime was the Crackers on the radio at night and getting up early in the morning to scan the box scores in the morning paper to see how many hits Mickey Mantle had gotten the night before -- or if Yogi Berra had hit a home run. And it was choosing up sides and playing all morning and all afternoon -- or playing flies-and-grounders, push-up or roller-bat if you didn't have enough guys to make two teams. And it was playing Red Rover and freeze tag and tag-out-of-jail after supper -- with an occasional game of hide-and-go-seek thrown in after dark.
Summertime was a long succession of endless days -- days of being out the front door at first light and not having to be home until the streetlights came on. It was looking for discarded bottles to trade for a Coke and a nickel's worth of penny candy. It was digging into the bottom of the drink cooler and searching for that one perfect six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola that had a slight crust of ice forming at the top. It was Saturday night cookouts and hand-churned ice cream and camping out in the backyard with your buddies, scaring one another to death with tales of Bloody Bones and Soap Sally.
Summertime was scrounging around the village in search of cast- off lumber, nails, wheels, shingles, and whatever else could be found to make a hut or scooter or raft that wouldn't float. It was three whole months away from school without a care in the world beyond how to fill the next hour's time -- and if you decided to fill that time by doing absolutely nothing -- that was perfectly fine, too.
Summertime for an 8-year-old in the American South in 1960 was an endless string of endless idyllic days which did actually come to and end -- and far too soon.
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy."
It was indeed. Indeed, it was.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.