There was nothing like summer on River Road. No more undershirts, no more shoes – just three whole months of carefree days perfect for cloud watching and puddle splashing. Dawning amidst dew drops on petals and all manner of chirps and buzzing, each new day beckoned and beguiled.
Admittedly, I was in trouble more than once for wasting time in front of the television; and our parents regularly banished the whole lot of us from the house to “get the stink blowed off” whenever we “got underfoot.” But we played, and we played – and then we played some more.
Growing up with parents whose childhoods had been impacted by the Great Depression frequently called our own rather modest collection of toys into question. Any mention of boredom with playthings fell on deaf ears; and we had to make up our own fun. Without camps and ball practice cluttering our summer calendars, we passed our days converting any spot anywhere on the farm into our playground.
Sometimes we crossed the road to the pasture field and woods, Muddy Creek floating lazily between. Other times we headed back the lane, lined with fields of ripening grain and grazing Holsteins, to end up at the rickety bridge. We played in the barn; we played in the lot; we played under the clothesline and in the orchard.
We also spent lots of time in the yard. Bordered by a sprawling butternut tree holding our tire swing and a cherry tree with branches perfect for climbing, the sidewalk with lilac bushes and Oriental grass just beyond, and a whole bank of hollyhocks, irises, and rambler roses offsetting the cellar doors, the yard was where we ran and jumped and rolled around in the grass. Periodically Mother checked on us through a row of kitchen windows, especially when we screamed bloody murder – or fell suspiciously silent.
When I was really little, we sat on the back steps just outside the laundry room to dig in the dirt with misshapen old spoons. And then, wonder of all wonders, my dad dumped a load of sand from somewhere into a ring of some kind next to the old milk house: instant sandbox. Invariably littered with old tin cans and stray twigs for digging and stirring, it became the perfect spot for making “supper,” building castles, or just getting dirty.
Another popular venue was the front porch. Company never used it to enter the house, so the small elevated area served as the ideal platform for talent shows. One oft-performed number: “We Are Three Chicks,” a tap routine we copied from schoolmates who actually took dance lessons.
Then there were the county fairs that transpired on the porch, complete with displays laid out on the card table. Just as Mother often entered three baking powder biscuits or three blueberry muffins on a plate, our exhibits featured three leaves on a saucer or three pretty stones…
And when Nan and Bert and Freddie and Flossie of Bobbsey Twin fame went adventuring at the seashore or on a houseboat, so did the Scott girls. Shortly after I read about a parade the Bobbsey kids organized while on vacation, there we were with our little red wagon and a couple of doll baby buggies traveling the lane out to the road and back again in full cavalcade mode.
All these years later, I have learned that country youngsters were not the only ones making the most of every summer day. My friend Jane and the other kids in her Urbana neighborhood played hopscotch and jumped rope, too. Like us, they repurposed recess recreation from the school yard for summer fun: Red Rover, Statue, Simon Says, plus rousing sessions of Hide and Seek – ready or not!
They also produced their own shows, in the form of circus acts. Sheets hanging from the basement ceiling added an air of anticipation for feats of magic, The Great Hula Hooper, and the lion tamer – who subdued an unsuspecting pet dog pressed into service for the extravaganza. And the mothers in attendance could sample Easy-Bake-Oven cakes during intermission. Those future Climbers thought of everything!
My siblings grew up to have children who discovered their own special fun and games involving items from their huge assortments of toys. They spent hours “playing Barbies” and racing Hot Wheels. Some even delved into imaginative imitations of parents and grandparents by fixing tractors with miniature tools or whipping up meals in tiny kitchens.
And one little guy, with whom I have been friends since he was born on my birthday eight years ago, still constructs elaborate cushion-and-blanket forts whenever he comes to visit. Another eight-year-old, during a visit this summer, performed her originally-choreographed dance to music playing on YouTube. I love it that these youngsters of the newest generation at least occasionally put aside their technological gadgets to indulge in good, old imagination-stretching.
We know that kids learn by playing. Educational professionals believe that children should have time and freedom to play because play is a necessity rather than a luxury. I consider these observations academically sound.
However, I have a special wish for youngsters of all ages: lots of summer days, full of promise and stretching ahead endlessly, as well as the chance to spend those days wrapped in the splendid spontaneity of imagination as they play and play – and play some more…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.