Within the next week or so, if not already, public schools will have dismissed for the summer. Though it’s been nearly 50 years since I was a public school student I remember well the excitement of summer vacation.
For the Huisman kids, summer vacation was delayed by Vacation Bible School. Like anything good for us, we weren’t too excited by another two weeks in a classroom. We survived, however, and I must admit that the lessons learned in VBS have come back to direct and encourage me later in life. Post VBS, one of my favorite summer pastimes was playing baseball. What was then called the Iowa Highway Commission maintained a large grassy area behind the home of my friends, Bruce and Gene. Almost daily (if it wasn’t raining) we got neighborhood kids together and played baseball on the Highway Commission property.
We seldom could assemble enough players to create two teams so we usually played “work-up.” On occasion we got upset with one another so when the owner of the baseball stomped off the field mad, the game ended.
Bicycles played an important part of my summer vacation. A bicycle in a small town is a 10-year-old boy’s best friend. In an era and community where children were safe in any part of town, my friends and I rode our bikes everywhere. My bike was dressed out with streamers extending from the handle bar grips, a headlamp and a speedometer. My route to downtown included one decent hill and one time I clocked myself going more than 35 miles per hour. I had no concern for what would happen if I hit a rock on the street or if a car pulled out in front of me. For a 10-year-old more than 35 mph on your bicycle is a thrill.
My bicycle accessories included a spring-type clothes pin and a stack of baseball cards as well as balloons. Properly installed these items gave my bike the sound of a motorcycle, which made 35 mph even more thrilling.
Thrills on bicycles included jumping ramps. More than once a ramp jump went bad and extreme pain resulted. Thank heavens I was able to father children later in life. Being what my mother described as a “husky” lad, ramp jumps were especially hard on my bike’s frame. I was a regular customer at the local blacksmith shop where Mr. Ayers repaired the frame for his standard rate of “two bits.”
On more than one occasion the neighborhood kids got together and set up a carnival in our backyards. We charged a penny or two for a ride on our improvised carnival rides.
I became skilled at the twirling washtub ride. I wrapped a rope around a washtub several times. Once a paying customer was aboard, I pulled the rope as hard as I could giving the rider a thrilling but very brief “tilt-a-whirl” experience. A favorite summer activity was searching for pop bottles which could be redeemed for a few pennies. I can’t remember if we received two-cents or three-cents a bottle but I know it took several to create enough cash to buy a bottle of pop at a local gas station. Soda pop was not regularly served in most homes in those days so a mid-afternoon pop at Molly’s Phillips 66 was a real treat.
Most of us had BB guns and regularly went hunting for sparrows. I admit that shooting sparrows was a cruel and unnecessary activity and I would not do it today. However, in the late 1950s pre-adolescent boys didn’t know any better. The good news is that none of us were marksmen and very few sparrows died. Very few.
One of my favorite but short lived summer time activities was going to the drug store and reading the Police Gazette magazines. Though quite tame by today’s standards, they were the raciest publications we could get our hands on. I said this activity was short lived. One of the clerks kicked us out of the drug store one day telling us those magazines weren’t for boys. That, of course, made me want to read them all the more. Porgy and Bess had it right: Summertime and the livin’ is easy.