Thursday, June 09, 2005

a look back: saskatchewan summer

(Fragments from Floyd started this memory meme here. He invites other bloggers to join in on the summer reminiscences. If you do, let him know. )


For me, summer in childhood started officially at the end of June, which was the end of school. Even though there were summer-like days before that, it was hard to get into the spirit of things while still held captive by desks and books and needing to pay attention. I knew we were on the verge, though, by the nodding roadside dandelions, yarrow and clover, and the wild roses. Their fragrance came on the warm breeze of our mile-plus walk from the country school we went to as kids.

But that deliriously happy final day of school came at last and with it freedom – to a point. For though I may have fantasized endless lazy hours of play in the sun, when you’re the oldest of nine kids, summer also means work. For me that meant hours in the garden pulling weeds, doing breakfast dishes by hand (of course, including the cream separator – how slimy that dishwater, how dead the soap bubbles, quenched by the greasy scum of the last half-dozen milkings), and sultry afternoons on the front porch with the whole shebang of us shelling peas.

My brothers made that job fun, though. How we laughed at the rude armpit fart and burp contests they started and the funny things they said. Boredom was kept permanently away when someone made up the long-running game of seeing who could get the most ‘riders’ (empty pea shells which, when thrown into the garbage box, straddled the edges).

Of course there were play times too. We’d go on play jags. It would be days on end making forts in the Log Cabin Bush. Then Dad would trim the caragana hedge and someone would invent a way to fish for the branches from the roof of the sandbox. And of course there was always fun on the slide – an inclined plane covered with galvanized metal built for us by Dad to take us from the sandbox roof to the ground. We quickly found it was far more challenging and fun to think up ways to go up that slide – with speed and in a variety of styles – than down.

And I mustn’t forget the storms. We got some pretty violent thunderstorms on the prairies, and they were usually at their worst in the middle of the night. This meant we’d be shaken from sleep in our upstairs beds by Mom and herded into the livingroom, where all the pullout and drop-down couches were ready for us. After we were settled it was hard for me to fall back asleep as the storm played out – faint crackles followed by, a millisecond later, flashes illuminating the room, and then the cracks of thunder. I’d lie there counting the seconds between the flash and thunderclap trying to gauge the nearness of the lightning, and feeling scared, excited and safe all at the same time.

Sometime in the middle of the storm, I would fall asleep I guess. For suddenly it would be morning, with the sun shining through the livingroom windows, cheerful and as if there had never been a storm. From the barnyard I would hear a rooster crow and chickens cackle. The open screen door let in the cool air, clean, damp and fresh-smelling, inviting me to get up to enjoy another wonderful summer day.


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