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Restless Summer Days

June 26th, 2012 at 9:59 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

RESTLESS SUMMER DAYS

As a junior high-aged kid, entering summer vacation was like peering into a deep canyon that needed to be filled. Summer was big and empty, and I had no idea what to put into it.

Although summer days should have been all about freedom, I missed school. I missed the daily companionship of classmates.

While many of my close friends had sisters at home to keep them company, I didn’t. And so for me, summer felt like an unfortunate quarantine.

I did have a brother, of course, but hey, he was a brother. And anyway, during his teenage years, he was off on his own. Leon was part of the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps in Great Bend and he spent entire summers traveling in a bus, giving performances across the country.

One of the best things my mother ever taught me was how to entertain myself. As a youngster whenever I’d whine that I was bored, she would encourage me to follow my own interests. And so I spent a lot of time reading. I could occupy myself with books for days.

But there were still a lot of restless summer afternoons in Pawnee Rock. And those early teenage years in general were restless for me and my friends. We were old enough to want to go places on our own, but not old enough to drive there ourselves. We longed to be part of the teenage crowds in Great Bend and Larned. We wanted “drag the gut” in the evenings, to hang out at the A&W or the Pizza Inn like the older kids.

On hot summer days, I often found my way to Marilyn and Sarah’s house. Their family had a stock tank in their backyard and it was probably the only swimming pool in town. Not that one could actually swim in it – it was only about six feet in diameter. But it was big enough to cool off four or five girls at a time.

I found some mowing jobs during those summers and I pushed the family’s mower around town to a half-dozen ragged lawns.

John Foster, who lived several few blocks away, hired me to mow his yard, but he wanted me to use his brand new self-propelled mower.

I wasn’t a very big kid and his mower dragged me around. When that self-propelled monster started to run up the raised root of a tree and then on up the trunk a bit, well, there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. I spent all of my energy holding that mower back from innocent flowers and shrubs. It was like walking a frisky dog through a neighborhood full of cats.

At the beginning of one of those summers during my junior high years, Mom suggested that I start making lunch for my dad. Mom worked out of town and Dad came home from his carpentry shop every day at noon.

After the very first meal I prepared, I’m sure Dad was thinking that this wasn’t such a good idea. I decided to make spaghetti, an easy meal. I had watched my mom make it before, all in one skillet. And so I browned hamburger and added tomato paste and a packet of spaghetti seasoning mix. Then I added the dry pasta to the skillet just like mom did, and stirred it around a bit. Somehow though, I missed the trick of adding water to the skillet, the water that was necessary for the pasta to cook.

Well, I wasn’t smart enough to figure out the problem and the pasta never did soften. But my non-complaining father filled his plate with meat sauce and the brittle yellow twigs of spaghetti.

Dad ate around the uncooked pasta and he did not find fault with the meal. He was like that about food. As a Depression Era kid, Dad ate whatever was put in front of him. I gave the leftovers to the dog, and she, too, ignored the inedible pasta.

By the end of each June, I finally got into the swing and the rhythm of things. I found ways to fill up that canyon of summer by reading and mowing and hanging out with friends. And I’m sure my dad appreciated his lunches more – once I finally learned how to cook spaghetti.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

columns, life on the ground, seasons, yabbering

  1. Flips
    June 26th, 2012 at 11:59 | #1

    I guess that is the difference in living in town & in the country– back when I was growing up– I was “free labor”!! Checking cattle & pastures in the Flint Hills– hauling hay-& driving tractor in the fields- doing all the chores from milking cows to gathering eggs– & finally breaking those 2 year old colts!! Gardening– canning– dressing chickens–picking wild fruit & berries– & hunting gooseberries–fishing for what ever ya could catch for supper!! Cooling off in the creek– as the well had run dry & you had to haul water– Cousins from the City comming to visit on weekends!!
    Loved your story– never really gave much thought to kids growing up in town– as on the farm there never was a lack of anything to do– or was expected of you to do to help out on the farm!!

  2. dave
    June 26th, 2012 at 12:31 | #2

    you should hear about my boiled squirrel dumplings. But really you shouldn’t.

  3. Flips
    June 26th, 2012 at 12:59 | #3

    LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anything like BBQED Racoon?????????? Been there done that– BUT not boiled squirrel dumplings– I have eaten fried squirrel many times growing up!!! I think the things I had to eat as a child growing up –are what swayed me to being a strong VEGETARIAN in my adult life!!!! 🙂

  4. Tom Parker
    June 26th, 2012 at 13:37 | #4

    Egads! Bored in the summer? Incomprehensible! During my school years summer was the only time I truly felt free–until my dad made me mow the lawn, weed the yard, wash windows, etc. Otherwise I was roaming the mesa, hunting lizards and horned toads, climbing trees and being a perfect angel. Well, sort of.

  5. Roger
    June 26th, 2012 at 15:36 | #5

    “It was like walking a frisky dog through a neighborhood full of cats.”
    Loved that, Cheryl. I know exactly.

  6. Marcia kelly
    June 26th, 2012 at 17:52 | #6

    Bored?!! Never. I remember spending a lot if time learning to surf in the ocean or visiting friends’ cabins at Russian River, the Sants Cruz Mountains or Lake Tahoe. Mostly swimming all the time or sneaking up to Berkeley to buy an underground newspaper like Rolling Stone used to be. Also was a daycamp counselor & worked part time at my Dad’s office. My friends also got together once a week to play in a quintet. I read every James Bond book available & decided to become an international spy–but ended up in Topeka.

  7. Kris Holmes
    June 26th, 2012 at 21:08 | #7

    The things I *didn’t* like about summer as a child are the same things I don’t like now–extra sun, heat, and bugs. I don’t remember caring that much about my social life back then, but I did have a friend who lived a few blocks away and we went bike riding and roller skating together. And “I’m bored” was a very dangerous thing to say to my mother, as she had an armful of tasks to keep any child occupied.

    Great column, lots of reminders of the days back when.

  8. June 26th, 2012 at 22:44 | #8

    Good stuff.

  9. Janet Fish
    June 27th, 2012 at 06:25 | #9

    It’s fun and interesting to read how other people’s childhoods were, and summer vacation was a biggie growing up. I spent my summers in or on the water as a teenager. I still miss those times. It was great.

  10. June 27th, 2012 at 11:47 | #10

    Super! I will smile about the spaghetti for a while.

  11. Anna Keller
    June 30th, 2012 at 00:05 | #11

    Great memories of summer days when time passed slowly! Love the image of your dad eating around that spaghetti (and the dog, too!)