Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Summer nights were hot, but we didn’t care back then

I always try to watch the end of twilight on the longest and shortest days of the year. When June 21 came this time, I forgot, so I watched especially carefully on June 22. The lapse of daylight could not have been but a minute or so longer the day before. Still, it seemed that there was light much longer in my childhood; as it was this year, the last rays of twilight seemed to fade, at the longest possible stretch of measurement (which was what we children did) at almost 9 p.m.

In my childhood (during which, of course, there was no “daylight savings time”), the summer evenings seemed to last forever. This feeling was no doubt accentuated by the fact that it was off to bed almost as soon as we were called inside. Evening seemed a lovely time of day, for the heat of the afternoon had faded, and children seemed to find a renewed energy.

Sleep was the enemy of small boyhood, so that coming inside at the end of day was a most unpleasant duty, and most children, like me, found that they could not hear Mother’s call as the bedtime hour approached.

In a generation not acquainted with computers and cell-phones (not to mention that television did not arrive in our home until I was seven), we were left to ourselves to find entertainment, and find it we did — with games of “war,” hide-and-seek, cowboys and Indians, various kinds of ball (organized and not), after supper visits to the swimming pool (on special occasions), and of course, bicycles.

We wandered perhaps three blocks from home, but as I recall, no special permission was needed or sought for our neighborhood peregrinations. As day gave way to night, a nickel might be sought to go to the walk-up window at the Varsity Drive-In, a block away for a soft ice-cream cone. Usually I was given a dime or twenty cents to bring cones back for the rest of the family. A special treat was a cone dipped in chocolate that would instantly harden, called a “brown derby” (bad for the arteries, but in those days, who knew?) A brown derby cone cost more and was reserved as a special treat solely because of the expense.

The high days of summer were always spent with my cousin at Louise, Mississippi. Memories there abound, particularly of getting up early (we wanted to “help” my uncle gather the harvest of his garden). It was also great fun listening to him tell stories of the ancient Greeks and Romans. During the day we would ride our bicycles up and down the four (yes, four) blocks of the little town, carefully avoiding Highway 49-W, which made up one of the town’s two north-south thoroughfares, we were forbidden on pain of death to venture out upon.

As often as we dared, we would stop by my uncle’s doctor’s office to beg for suckers (these were still given to children in those days when visiting the physician, and yes, on the last day of the visit, I usually had to get my “booster” shots for this, that or the other — and this was in the day when polio was still deeply feared).

Other amusements consisted of riding our bikes furiously up to the railroad when the train made its daily trip — what a little train it was, just a locomotive, freight car or two and caboose, but the engineer always waved, and after it passed, we would look for loose date nails in the cross ties, often finding them back into the era of World War I. The trains, of course, moved at a snail’s pace, but once there was a derailment just north of town, and we viewed the overturned carload of animal feed with great solemnity.

How amusing it is to recall that we would eschew my aunt’s carefully prepared suppers (using those wonderful vegetables from my uncle’s garden), hoping at least once per visit to be allowed to go up to the local Tastee Freeze (next door to the barber shop and run by the barber and his wife) for a “foot-long hot dog,” a delicacy that was apparently not available in my hometown, for I never had one anywhere except in Louise.

Years later, while en route to a ministers’ meeting in Jackson, and after my family had moved away from Louise, I stopped at the little Tastee-Freeze and ordered one of those creations. Eating it in the car, I spilled it all over myself, and had no change of clothes. So much for nostalgia!

Best of all, my uncle could sometimes be persuaded to saddle up his horse, “Bronze Boy” and give us a ride. My cousin Billy loved that old horse, as the photo with this article clearly shows. Bronze Boy had his own barn out behind the house, with a full acre pasture fenced in. It was part of this land that Uncle Howard used for his “garden patch,” and I remember what luscious watermelons he grew. There was always lots of fresh corn and wonderful turnip greens and strings of fish that his patients offered in payment for his medical services, for this was before Medicaid, and Uncle Howard was a true “country doctor.” Many times he would go out into the night to help someone in need, knowing he would never be paid.

My cousin was a year and a half older, and I remember going to his Little League games. He was a great hero to me, much advanced in athletic prowess. Mostly, though, we spent the evenings just “doin’ nothin’,” waiting for the scritch-scratch of the very-worn plastic record that was played into a microphone for the regular evening performance of hymns chimed from the loudspeakers atop the Methodist Church. Those summer nights were so terribly hot and the mosquitoes ate us alive, but somehow we children never cared!

Time goes so much faster when you are older, and one longs for the days when summer was such an expanse that you could not see from one end to the other. My cousin used to tell me that soon after I got home school would be starting, and it was news I hated to hear. But he was older and wiser, and so the prediction came true.

The longest day of the year makes me think of such things, and it is a reminder that memory can be one of the most pleasant of humanity’s sweet gifts.


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