Summer Freedom from Generation to Generation

Now that we are well into June, most schools across the nation are out, and kids everywhere are enjoying their summer vacations. Or are they? It seems to me that children don’t have as much summer freedom as past generations had. They may have the world at their fingertips through the internet, but they don’t know their neighborhoods as well as their parents and grandparents knew theirs.

My dad in the years when he roamed Los Angeles

My dad talked about taking the bus all over the Los Angeles area when he was a kid. His family lived in Pasadena from the time he was six or so until he was thirteen or fourteen. He told me he and a buddy would each bring a dime for their excursions—a nickel to travel outbound as far they could travel using bus transfers, and the other nickel to get them back home. From Pasadena in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, they rode to downtown Los Angeles and beyond. I wish I could remember his stories about all the places they went.

It didn’t seem to bother his parents that he was roaming the streets of a large metropolis in the years after World War II. (L.A. was the fifth largest city in the U.S. in 1940 and the fourth largest in 1950.) He made it sound perfectly normal for a preteen boy to be out on his own anywhere he could travel on public transportation.

A Kansas City-born friend of the same generation as my parents talks about similar bus trips in her hometown. “My mother never knew where I was,” she told me. Kansas City was much smaller than L.A., but in the 1940s the municipality was annexing land for expansion, and it had its own share of crime. I’m not sure I would have let my preteen kids take the bus by themselves, though they did once they reached high school.

By contrast, I grew up in a small town without any public transportation. I could only go where I could walk or ride my bike (and there weren’t many places in town worth pedaling to in the summer heat). In my grade school years, I mostly roamed the fields around our house with my brother or stayed inside and read a book.

Columbia River from near the ferry road access point

When I was in high school, some friends and I did go tubing in the Columbia River on hot summer afternoons. We took our inner tubes to an access point on the old ferry road and floated to a boat ramp maybe a mile or so downstream. The river was cold but the sun was hot, and the water felt great in the dry desert air. Then we’d walk with our tubes back to the ferry access and do it again.

I look back on those times now and realize floating the river was probably less safe than riding the bus in L.A. in 1947. The current was fast, and I was not a strong swimmer. But there was only one time we didn’t maneuver ourselves to shore at the boat ramp. We floated on past as we paddled furiously and reached the riverbank a few hundred feet further on. Then we had to scramble through the rock and brush back to the boat ramp. A little scary, but we all survived, unscathed except for a few bug bites.

Friends my age talk of being shooed out of the house on summer days until dinner time, whether they lived in the country, in towns, or in cities. So freedom was still a part of summer for my generation.

My kids having a summer picnic on our deck. Not much opportunity for exploration. 

But my kids’ generation had a different experience, at least those who were in day care. I can remember making sure my children were enrolled in summer programs during their grade-school years. Their school had a summer program with weekly activities that seemed quite adequate in the primary grade years. But as they got older, they wanted more variety. They went to Scout camps and YMCA camps. They visited grandparents. But I made sure they had scheduled group activities every week. I didn’t want them home alone.

When my son reached middle school, I let him stay home by himself a day or two a week. But I thought a whole week at home by himself was just asking for trouble. When my daughter reached middle school, she refused to go to the school’s summer program any longer. I let her stay home with her older brother—who was in high school by then. They had strict instructions on what they could and could not do, where they could and could not go. They were allowed to walk to the YMCA swimming pool a mile from our house, but they were also cautioned about crossing the four-lane roads and the freeway entrance and exit ramps that lay between our neighborhood and the pool.

So my children had less freedom in the summers than I had, and far less than my father who had all of Los Angeles as his playground. I think it’s one of the disadvantages of having two parents who work jobs with little flexibility.

What do you remember of your summers? Were you free or scheduled?

The Summer of ’64: Pacific Grove

PG house 1963

My grandparents’ house in Pacific Grove, 1963

I’ve mentioned spending summers with my grandparents in Pacific Grove, California. It seemed like I spent several idyllic summers there, but there really weren’t that many.

Only twice did my brother and I spend long vacations with our grandparents. In 1963 we spent a month there, but our mother was with us, so that didn’t really count. In 1964, my brother and I were there by ourselves for a month. In the summer of 1967 we spent a week or two there, but our mother and toddler sister accompanied us. There was a Christmas trip to Pacific Grove also, but since it was too cold to go to the beach then, that didn’t really count.

PG view 1963

The view from my grandparents’ living room, of the Pacific Ocean and the golf course where my grandfather played

So really, when I think of spending summers in Pacific Grove, most of my memories come from the summer of 1964, when I was eight and my brother not quite seven.

Our dad drove us from our home in Richland, Washington, to Portland, Oregon. The interstate highway along the Columbia River was under construction, and the drive was long and slow, but we saw lots of waterfalls cascading from the hills above us toward the river.

After spending the night with my dad’s parents in Vancouver, Washington, my brother and I flew all by ourselves from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco. (It wasn’t our first trip on an airplane—we’d flown from Pasco, Washington, to Portland the summer before.) After our solo flight, our grandparents picked us up in San Francisco and drove us to Pacific Grove, about 90 minutes away.

And then we had four weeks on the beach before our grandparents drove us home to Richland.

T in PG 1964

Me, dressed for church in Pacific Grove, in 1964. We didn’t get to go to the beach on Sundays.

What was so wonderful about that summer of ’64 was how unstructured and undisciplined our time was. Papa Gene, our grandfather, was strict, but he was away playing golf most days. Nanny Winnie, our grandmother, loved the ocean. She took us to the beach almost every day. Pacific Grove had—and still has—a sheltered cove with a public beach. I’ve been back in recent years, and the stone alcove where Nanny Winnie and her beach buddies sat is still there.

We built sandcastles with ocean moats, wondering why they never lasted from day to day. We swam in the water and body surfed in the waves, though we were supposed to stay where we could touch the bottom. (Sometimes we ventured out farther.) We caught hermit crabs and took them home in our plastic buckets, but even in a pailful of sea water with a little sand and seaweed they died by the next morning.

Lovers Point Park Beach PG

Beach in Pacific Grove, showing stone alcove where my grandmother sat, and on the right, the stone jetty for glass-bottomed boats

We stayed on the beach until we were hot, sandy, and cranky, and then we had to trudge the three or four blocks back to our grandparents’ house, with our heavy pails sloshing against our legs on the days we caught hermit crabs.

Back in Richland, things were changing without us. My parents had a second telephone installed—it was so weird to talk to them both at the same time when they called long-distance on Sundays. But what annoyed me the most was the things that changed that they didn’t tell us about—like adding carpet to the stairs to the basement, which was a surprise when I returned. I wanted my world to stay the same while I was gone. Even then, I thought I should be consulted about such things. Or at least informed.

The biggest change was in my mother. I knew she was pregnant when we left, but when we returned in late August, about a week before school started, she had this big round ball in her belly. My sister was born in mid-September 1964, just a few weeks later.

In wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my brother and I had probably been shipped off to our grandparents not for our amusement, but because of my mother’s pregnancy. She had had several miscarriages between 1960 and 1964, and this pregnancy with my sister was not an easy one. Having us gone meant she didn’t have any childcare responsibilities for a month and could rest. And deal with new telephones and carpeted stairs.

I never talked to my parents about why they sent us to stay with our grandparents, but I’m sure that’s why we spent so long in Pacific Grove that summer. But I saw no reason to feel any resentment about being sent away. My parents, my brother, and I all benefited, and I have wonderful memories. Pacific Grove is still one of my favorite places on earth.

What have you realized as an adult about your childhood that you didn’t know then?

Fighting Fires: Now and Then

close up fires croppedMany of the forest fires raging in the West this summer are not far from places I know—outside of Twisp and Omak and Okanogan near Lake Chelan in Washington State; Clark Fork near Lake Pend d’Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle; and other fires in Oregon.

I remember fires from lightning raging across Rattlesnake Mountain when I was a child. They never approached close to home, but the smell of smoke wafted into town and lingered for days. The black hillsides reminded us of nature’s power until plant life grew the following year. Sometimes it took several years for the scars to vanish.

As I watch the news reports this summer, particularly when I hear of firefighters dying, I think of my father. It’s not just because he also died this past year, though perhaps that is a factor. It’s because fire-fighting was a part of his personal story. Had he died fighting fires as a youth, like the young men did this past week in Washington State, I would not be here.

My father spent his summers during college fighting forest fires in Idaho. The money was better than any other job he could get, and he relished the freedom of living away from his parents and working outdoors.

1953ish TTC in Idaho 20150311_155121

I think this picture was taken during one of those Idaho summers between 1952 and 1954. He was a skinny guy in those years. The hard physical labor must have built him some muscles, though they’re not particularly evident in this picture.

My father told a few stories about his Idaho summers. None of the stories I remember involved him getting close to flames, though I think he did on occasion. His stories gave me the impression that most of his time was spent hacking through weeds and brush to build fire breaks, not in the dangerous heat and flames we see on television.

My father developed a life-long hatred of weeds. When my brother and I were in grade school, he assigned us the summer chore of pulling weeds out of our backyard gardens—a different flower bed each weekday morning. My brother had an hour of duty each day. I got off with only thirty minutes, if I spent the other thirty minutes practicing the piano. My musical abilities improved rapidly.

Some days during his summers in Idaho, my father’s job was to repair equipment. One day he had to work on the camp’s Jeep. They didn’t have a car lift in the forestry camp, so the Jeep was driven onto planks over a pit, then the men worked underneath it. Apparently, the planks were not very secure, and it was fortunate that the Jeep did not crush the mechanics below. According to my father, the foreman did a lot of cussing when he discovered the rickety set up.

My father’s goal with his summer employment was to earn enough money to cover his college tuition and books for the following school year, and he succeeded. (Of course, he told me frequently that his annual tuition at the University of Washington was $600 in those days—less than books alone would be today.)

For his room and board during college, my father traded off between living and home and living at the fraternity house. When he lived at home, he didn’t pay rent, but what young college man wants to live with his parents? After a quarter, he was usually chomping at the bit to leave.

At the fraternity house, he worked as a short-order cook in the kitchen to cover his living expenses. That’s where he learned to baste eggs and make such yummy pancakes! But after a quarter there, he was ready for the easier life at home.

It’s hard for me to believe my father was ever a 19- to 21-year-old college student facing danger, whether the danger came from fire or from falling Jeeps. I was born before he was 23, just a few years after his fire-fighting summers. He always seemed cautious to me, even when I was a young child. Maybe that was just the face he showed his daughter. Maybe it was the maturity of becoming a parent.

All these memories run through my head as I listen to the evening news. I mourn the deaths of the young firefighters as well as my father’s death. I regret the destruction of some beautiful parts of the nation. And I remember my own small connections to the newsworthy events of the moment.

What recent news stories have hit you close to home?

Distraction: Magnolia Blossoms in July

20150703_081751For the past week or two, the magnolia tree in our front yard has been blooming again. Not as many blossoms as in the spring, and not as noticeable because the leaves are fully formed. But still a treat.

I don’t know what has caused the profusion of blooms. Is it all the rain we have had? The changing temperatures?

Usually the tree blooms in March or April—one of the earlier harbingers of spring. Sometimes it is tricked by warm days in January, only to be cut short by the next freeze. Rarely does it have many flowers in the full of summer, even though it is supposedly a southern tree.

But the blossoms are welcome whenever they come. For me they are a symbol of abundance and promise.

20150703_081743So I sit this morning at my desk writing, and my view is full of hope. The fully-leaved magnolia obscures all neighborhood activity, though I hear a power saw across the street and a lawnmower down the block.

All I see are the huge pink flowers surrounded by gaudy green foliage. Occasionally, a bird lights on a branch, or two squirrels play hide and seek (or other games) and shake the tree. A profusion of nature in my suburbia.

And a welcome distraction from writing a blog post.

What distractions keep you from writing?

My Mother the Librarian . . . And How Libraries Have Changed!

February is Library Lovers Month. I come from a family of library lovers, and I am one myself.

boy reading book at the libraryWhen I was a child, we could only check out six books from the library at a time. My mother took my siblings and me to the library almost every week during the summer, and I checked out my six books. I usually read one of them on the drive home (making me carsick, but I couldn’t wait to explore my treasures), and I had all of them read within a couple of days.

Then I started on my brother’s books. I read as many Hardy Boys as Nancy Drew, and Robert Heinlein along with Maud Lovelace. Then I was bored . . . until our next trip to the library.

My mother in her librarian days

My mother in her librarian days

I’ve mentioned before that my mother was a librarian. She didn’t become a librarian until my youngest brother was in school, and she worked at the school that he and my sister attended. I was away at college by that time, so I didn’t really get to see my mother as a librarian.

But I know she was proud of her knowledge of the books and systems in the library. She told me stories about the weekly library periods that each class in the school had and the activities that she devised from them—from finding fun, easy books for the youngest readers, to teaching middle-grade students about the card catalogs and using encyclopedias.

Even mentioning card catalogs and encyclopedias makes me realize how much the world has changed in the last thirty years. Now we go online to a library website, and we can search the entire catalog in seconds, without really knowing what we are looking for. Keywords and search engine optimization are now more important than subject cards—and much faster and easier to use.

Encyclopedias are mostly a thing of the past. I have a 1989 Encyclopedia Britannica set in my family room (both Macropedia and Micropedia), and yearbooks for the set up through 2009. A year after my husband and I finally decided not to continue buying the annual yearbook (we’re out of shelf space), Encyclopedia Britannica halted publication of the yearbooks completely. Perhaps we were their last customer.

In any event, while it is sometimes fun to browse the encyclopedia, Wikipedia is faster, if somewhat less reliable. Google puts more knowledge at our fingertips than the encyclopedia, and stays up to date without an annual purchase.

Yet despite the changes, I still am a strong patron of libraries. I love browsing the shelves in libraries, and I usually come away with something unexpected. Still, I limit my time in libraries now, because of the ease of ebooks.

Most often now, I feed my ebook habit through Overdrive. I have accounts at three public library systems, and I get ebooks through all three. Managing the holds at these three separate systems can be a nightmare—sometimes several books all become available at once. Which to read first?

What has your association been with libraries, past and present?

A Picture I Wish I Had: Licorice Ice Cream

A high-school friend of mine had only one older sister and didn’t understand the pains that younger siblings could be. She seemed to like being around my little sister and brother.

In the summer of 1972, my friend drove over to my house. She decided we should take my younger sister and brother to the Baskin Robbins store for ice cream. My sister was almost eight that summer, and my brother about four-and-a-half.

I protested, but my siblings were all in favor of the idea, and my parents gave permission. Off we went in my friend’s car, whether I was keen on the idea or not.

Baskin Robbins has always touted their thirty-one flavors, and 1972 was no exception.

licorice ice creamMy sister declared that she wanted licorice ice cream.

Our younger brother, who wanted whatever my sister wanted, decided he wanted licorice also.

Licorice ice cream is black—almost as black as the candy twists—and smells and tastes like the candy as well. My siblings liked licorice, so the smell and taste were all right.

But, as an experienced older sister and frequent babysitter, I knew what black could do to clothes and upholstery.

I protested again. To no avail.

“If they want licorice, they can have licorice,” my friend said.

“They’ll get it all over your car,” I argued.

“We’ll stay here till they’re done eating,” she said.

“Where will they sit?” I asked. Baskin Robbins didn’t have any indoor seating.

“They can sit on the hood of my car.”

My younger sister and brother had never been allowed to sit on the hood of a car before. They exuberantly agreed to this plan.

I was outnumbered.

It was a hot summer evening, and the ice cream began to melt immediately. And to drip.

At four-and-a-half, my little brother was not able to manage his drips. His shirt very quickly became covered in black ice cream.

At almost eight, my sister soon was unable to manage her drips as well. Her shirt was covered in black ice cream as well.

Soon the drips spread to their shorts.

The kids got sticky.

My friend laughed.

I went into Baskin Robbins for more napkins, and tried to clean them up.

“Don’t touch anything!” I ordered when we got back in the car.

We got them home and into the bathtub. I don’t think anything was permanently damaged, except for the shirts. And shorts.

The picture I wish I had is of my younger siblings covered in licorice ice cream. While my friend laughed, and I prematurely acted like the strict parent I later became.

What picture do you wish you had?

A Picture I Wish I Had: A Baby and Huckleberries

Photo ©2008 Julie from Idaho. Permission via the Creative Commons 2.0 License

Photo ©2008 Julie from Idaho. Permission via the Creative Commons 2.0 License

A friend of mine in Washington State recently posted a picture of huckleberries she had picked. Now those of you who don’t live in the West may not even know what huckleberries are. You’ve heard of Huckleberry Finn, but did you ever wonder where the Huckleberry in his name came from?

(Actually, a little research indicates that some huckleberry varieties grow in the East also, but I will take a parochial attitude in this post and tell you that they can’t possibly be as good as western huckleberries.)

Huckleberries look like blueberries, but are smaller. And sweeter, in my opinion. And purple through and through. They are highly sought after by discerning humans and bears.

Huckleberries have not been domesticated, but have been picked in the wild from time immemorial until today. They are rampant in the hills around Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho.

Picture from Mermaids of the Lake; this site has a huckleberry pie recipe also

Picture from Mermaids of the Lake; this site has a huckleberry pie recipe also

One of our favorite activities on summer vacations at Coeur d’Alene was to boat from our cabin to Rockford Bay, where there was a little restaurant that served huckleberry pie. One teenager would waterski from the cabin until we reached the Bay. Then we’d stop, collect the skier, dock the boat, and traipse into the restaurant to order pie.

Some people liked it with ice cream. I typically just savored the sweet berries and flaky crust.

Today, when I visit Washington or Idaho or Montana, I eat huckleberry ice cream or milkshakes . . . or pie, when I can find it. And I try to bring home huckleberry jam or syrup.

When we summered in Idaho, we sometimes picked our own huckleberries, though that was a lot of work.

One summer day, my mother and I and the brother right behind me in age picked huckleberries. My sister was probably picking, too, though she was not quite five at the time, and I don’t remember her contributing many berries.

My baby brother, who was not yet two, was left on a blanket within sight. He was told to stay on the blanket. My recollection is that he mostly complied.

He mostly complied, because he had an incentive to stay on the blanket—the pickers dumped their full bowls of huckleberries into a large container that sat on the blanket beside him.

Baby brother wore a little yellow windbreaker to protect him from the cool mountain air. The jacket was probably a hand-me-down from my sister. I only remember it was yellow, because it didn’t stay yellow.

Baby brother got into the huckleberries stored in the large container on the blanket and ate his fill. Purple huckleberry juice stained the yellow windbreaker beyond repair.

That’s the picture I wish I had—the baby covered in huckleberry juice.

What picture do you wish you had?