With the recent streak of warm weather in Chicago, I found myself thinking a lot about summer. Growing up, my siblings and I had it pretty good in the summer months. We were fortunate enough to live close by to my Grandma’s house, and she had a backyard most kids only dream of, complete with a pool, swing set, and sandbox.
Each day during the summer we would wake up and get right into our swim suits and beg our mom to take us to our Grandma’s so we could hang out with our cousins and swim. Sadly, our mom was a mean mom and had a rule that we couldn’t go swimming until all five of us finished our assigned pages in our workbooks. Boy, did she drive a hard bargain! Yes, she made us exercise our minds during the summer months (As if doing school work nine months out of the year wasn’t enough). I have to admit, I was usually the one delaying things because it took me so long to finish my workbook pages. The other four kids would be at the kitchen table diligently working in their books while I would be laying on the TV room floor complaining about having to do school work in the summer. As soon as my mom would leave the room I would plead with one of my siblings, “Bridget, come on! Please just do my work book for me! I don’t want to do it! Ugghhh! I’ll empty the waste baskets for a month if you just do it for me!” To which everyone else would yell back, “Kathleen! Stop being a baby and do your workbook so we can go! Hurry up we are all waiting! Everyone is going to be at Grandma’s before us!” Finally, I would get up off the floor and huff and puff over to the table to join the other nerds in doing school work.
Whether I half-assed it through my assigned pages, or somehow bribed a sibling to do it for me, we always ended up happily on our way to the pool. We would all pile into the station wagon and jam out to my mom’s Don McLean/Jim Croce double sided cassette tape as we drove the all of 2 miles to Grandma’s. (This cassette was great except for the fact that “American Pie” cut off at the four minute mark and we didn’t get the whole eight minute song. This made for some awkward moments later in life when the song came on at wedding receptions and we abruptly stopped belting out all the words halfway through the song). Once we arrived at Grandma’s it was nothing but fun times with our cousins and aunts. There were really only two rules at the pool: 1. You damn well had better make sure your hands were completely dry before you dug into the bag of cheese popcorn. No one likes soggy popcorn. 2. No sand in the pool. If you were playing in the sandbox and wanted to go into the pool you first had to be hosed down by one of the adults. That water was so cold it was torture. It’s funny, looking back, it seemed my mom always volunteered to hose down kids with the icy cold water. Almost as if she enjoyed it. I swear I saw her smiling once when she was spraying me down but my vision was quickly blurred as the pressure from the sub-zero water hit my eyes so I can’t be 100% sure.
Sometimes, when we wanted a little break form the pool we would climb around the swing set. The safety of the swing set was questionable due to the fact that it was put in in about 1968 and some of the metal had rusted out. We were usually pretty good about staying up to date on our tetanus shots though so it was never really a problem. Plus, you get a cut on your arm just stick it in the pool. The high amounts of chlorine would kill any infection. The burn let you know it was killing the germs! Once we got bored with the swing set it was back to the pool we went.
Once our eyes were practically bleeding and resembled that of a crazed drug addict from all the chlorine, we knew it was time to head home. Usually we arrived back just in time to do a quick run around through the sprinklers before dinner. Not our own sprinklers, of course, but that of our elderly neighbors next door to us. Their sprinkler system would go off at about 5:30 every evening which perfectly coincided with when we would arrive back home every day. Nothing screams “We are hillbillys” quite like running around through the sprinklers on someone else’s lawn. After a quick dinner we would head back outside to ride bikes or set up traps to try and catch rabbits, keeping with the hillbilly theme. We didn’t jump on the whole “cable TV” bandwagon until later in life so we had to entertain ourselves somehow.
All that swimming really tired us out so at night we would kick back with a movie. Each week we would take turns on who got to pick out the movie at the video store. If you picked out a movie and it turned out to not be a big hit with the others, then naturally you’d blame it on someone else. “Well I was being nice and picked that movie for Michael so it shouldn’t even count as my turn! It’s really Michael’s fault the movie was so bad!” My parents would watch their movie upstairs while we watched our movie in the basement. The second the movie ended and the credits started to roll all of us would race upstairs as if our clothing was on fire because we were brats and no one wanted to have to stay and rewind the movie. Some were better than others in sensing when the movie was about to end and could get a head start. The unlucky kid left rewinding the video would usually yell up the stairs, “I hate you guys! You are all jerks!” While the rest of us would laugh and laugh.
Now that we are older we spend our summers a little differently. Things like work and other responsibilities tend to get in the way of some of our fun but we still hang around the pool together from time to time. But these days instead of drinking juice boxes by the pool we’ve graduated to more adult type beverages. No matter what though, we will always look back fondly on our summers as kids, and we have our generous grandma to thank for that!