Remember When Summer Edition

It was the best of seasons, the days were long, we played until the streetlights came on and then caught lightening bugs. Summer nights were spent sitting on the porch and talking to neighbors, family and friends. If it was too hot to sleep, you just stayed up and tried to cool off outside. If that didn’t work you got out the sprinkling hose and started to hose down the yard, sidewalk, and porch. That usually made a difference. No one had air conditioning back then, but thank God for window fans that purred all day and night. 

We played all day in the park, on the playgrounds (Sowinski School and Rockefeller Park), by the lakefront and took trips to the Aquarium at Gordon Park. The water spray was my favorite way to cool off during the hot summer. It always wasn’t working and you were never sure when the city would turn it on, but when they did the news traveled like wildfire. If you were bold and fearless you went for a swim where the Electric Company was. The best fun we had was playing  in the woods of Rockefeller Park and  in the Cultural Gardens on Liberty Boulevard. The monuments, fountains, and carved out walls, stairs, and various ground levels made it a great place to exercise our vivid imaginations and allowed us to spend all our excessive energy running up and down the gardens, playing in the fountains and pretending we were everything from knights, to cowboys and Indians. The mansions on East Boulevard were both wondrous and mysterious. Who lived in those mansions? What did they do for a living? What were they like inside and why didn’t we ever see any kids playing in those yards?

 I can remember the hobos who would come down the street and stop at a back door looking for something to eat. Today I guess we would call them homeless, but back then they were vagabonds, gypsies or former Merchant Marines. For some unknown reason they always stopped at our house and went to our backdoor and my mother always made them something to eat. They never came inside but always ate outside in the yard. When they were done they always offered to do a chore, render a service like sharpen your knives, or sweep your street, sidewalk or yard.   For some unknown reason I was never afraid of them.  Years later I was to find out that hobos marked streets and houses with symbols or signs, that they left on the curbs, trees, or on buildings. Those markings would let other hobos know where to stop for food or handouts. It was then I realized why our house was a sure place for them to stop. It was marked. My mother always used to stay “no one should ever go hungry, it is the least you can do for someone”.

One of the highlights of summer was the 4th of July. It meant barbecue, picnics, swimming, sunburn and fireworks. If we didn’t go somewhere to see them, we made our own or we watched the neighbors display and enjoyed them right from our front porch.  Flares and sparklers were the greatest things back then. Later on as we got older, the fireworks got bigger, bolder and louder. Instead of home displays we went to Edgewater Park to see real fireworks displays.

The end of summer was marked by the “Show-Wagon” at Rockefeller Park. It was like watching a live audition for “American Idol”. Everybody went and brought their lawn chairs or blankets to sit on. The show maybe lasted an hour or a little longer but it was music, singing, and dancing that entertained us. We took advantage of the many vendors who sold ice cream, candy, sodas, and chips. When the Show Wagon was over we knew Labor Day was soon to follow and that meant getting ready to go back to school. Nonetheless, it was a happy and memorable summer.