Hot Fun in the Summertime: My Childhood Favorite Day

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It was summertime 1973 and the house had a different rhythm – a teenaged rhythm.  3 teenaged sisters and a brother were home from boarding school and there was no rest for the curious.  I woke up early to the sound of Malin and Laurie’s swim lesson in the backyard pool.  Mom was making French Toast and the seductive aroma jolted me out of bed.

Down the hall, I heard James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.”  Jeff was awake and getting ready for another hot day in the fields with Mr. E.P.  Dad was on the ranch in Texas.  Running downstairs for breakfast in my favorite Speedo racerback swimsuit, I slid my fingers across the red velvet stripes on the wallpaper the whole way.  “I will feast on a rolled up slice of French Toast with powdered sugar,” I planned, “then to the pool for a quick swim until I hear the motor of the the ice cream maker churning fresh peach ice cream.”

 

There was nothing better than drying my pruney, water-drenched self atop the air conditioning unit near the ice cream maker in the summer.  My body pressed against the coils with hot air spewing – and leaving a checkerboard imprint on my legs.

honeysuckle-blossoms

Occasionally, the lure of wild honeysuckle draping across the backyard fence would lure me from my drying time atop the air conditioner and I would quickly hop off long enough to snap a blossom and gently pull the stem just enough to make the natural honey ooze.  Then immediately back to my post beside the ice cream maker:  nothing would deter me from my mission of pulling the paddle with freshly churned peach ice cream out of the magical drum surrounded by ice and salt.

“How DO you do this,” I asked Mom each time.  She was certainly busy but managed to make each day perfect.  I think summer was her favorite time, too.

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Mom and Dad honeymooning in Tennessee 1952

That summer, I rode my bike after supper with Laurie, my 15-year-old-sister.  She was my favorite playmate – she did my hair and makeup, taught me exercise moves, played The Beatles’ red album for me while I fell asleep at night, made homemade pretzels with me and told me where babies came from that summer!  

Summer was a time of electric energy, days filled with warmth and nonstop activity until I collapsed, water-logged and brain spinning with images mysterious teenage music (there was an earlier summer my brother had a cool garage band), posters, phrases, friends, clothes, hair and skincare products and LOVE.  At night, I would maneuver a way to climb in the back of the station wagon to “Circle Town,” listening to “Honky Tonk Women” on the local radio and sipping on a Cherry Coke from Big John’s.

 

When August came and my teenaged playmates packed up to return to school, I was so sad and “Alone Again, Naturally.”  Then the letter writing began – daily trips to our hometown Post Office to check out Post Office Box 156 and look for teenaged news and treasures became my occupation.  What a life I had as the youngest of 7 – each season’s memory dotted with loving memories of what “they” were up to and how much I had to look forward to.

 

 

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5 Things I Want My Children To Know About Summer

Dear Isa and Mario,

Before parents and institutions made summer about either catching up or advancing skills, summer was once a glorious time of slowing down and enjoying life.  Children were not only free to follow their imaginations wherever they could take them while spending time with family – they were expected to.  There were no “summer nannies” that were temporarily in charge of a rigorous weekly schedule of commitments.  Only grandparents and siblings with the means to help keep younger children happily occupied.

Harvesting sweet honey from a flower on the honeysuckle bush took great skill and patience.
Harvesting sweet honey from a flower on the honeysuckle bush took great skill and patience.

I keep hearing and reading about “Tips for Having a 70s Summer” as if there were a magical, secret formula – when it is really the simplest thing in the world to do!

A tire swing in a yard is a beautiful thing, giving you a bird's eye view of the sky and, even better if it leads to a lake or river.
A tire swing in a yard is a beautiful thing, giving you a bird’s eye view of the sky and, even better if it leads to a lake or river.

Growing up, summer at my house was about 5 things, not in any particular order – and it required no training or money.  Just the desire to float along carefree……

1.  Family  Since my 6 older brothers and sisters went to boarding school for High School, summer was the epitome of action at my house.  Suddenly, our house was flooded with teenagers each summer, and I relished spending time with each one as much as they may have resented it (and some did!!!).  After awhile, if I had been a very good girl, Mim, my Grandmother, would invite me to her house for an overnight stay!

Mim's refrigerator stocked with Orange Crush was by her back door, which played an enchanting little tune when she opened it to greet you warmly.
Mim’s refrigerator stocked with Orange Crush was by her back door, which played an enchanting little tune when she opened it to greet you warmly.

I got to drink Orange Crush (one only, so I would not wet the bed) at Mim’s house and then raid the “secret drawer” (which, of course, she knew was not a secret) in my Dad’s old bedroom for sticks of Doublemint gum.  Mim had a sweet laugh and everything about her seemed so ladylike to me – the smell of her skin, the touch of her perfectly manicured hands on mine – I was always on my best behavior on those special summer overnight

2.  Music

Your Uncle JD had a garage band.  They played cool Rolling Stones songs like “Jumping Jack Flash” and the band members, Louie and Bobby, let me stand on a chair and pretend to be playing tambourine.  No wonder I married your Dad,”Mike Tamburini”!!!

There were 2 teenaged albums I was especially curious about – the one with the 2 white guys and their wives – but one of them had an African American wife (Seals & Crofts).

An average of 2,400 hours per summer was spent playing albums in my sisters' room - "Teenage Albums"!
An average of 2,400 hours per summer was spent playing albums in my sisters’ room – “Teenage Albums”!
Aunt Kit's Senior Song was by these guys, "We May Never Pass This Way Again" - you should look it up on your "device"!
Aunt Kit’s Senior Song was by these guys, “We May Never Pass This Way Again” – you should look it up on your “device”!

The other album was in Uncle Jeff and Uncle JD’s room, and I was forbidden from ever playing it.  Oh, yeah?

"Look like dog shit?  Yah!  Smell like dog shit?  Sniff....Yah!"
“Look like dog shit? Yah! Smell like dog shit? Sniff….Yah!”

3.  The Outdoors

 It was not a punishment to play in the yard growing up – in fact, I actually had to be called inside for supper.

The smell of line-dried linens still makes me homesick.
The smell of line-dried linens still makes me homesick.

Always a huge fan of Grandma Rhetta, I tried to be right by her side when she was taking the freshly dried sheets off the laundry line.  Here’s some great advice, too, kids:  It is fun to put a clothespin on your nose and talk!

Homemade ice cream was always churning outside, especially on Sundays.  Pulling the ladle out and swiping fresh ice cream from the metal churner was divine!
Homemade ice cream was often churning outside, especially on Sundays. Pulling the ladle out and swiping fresh ice cream from the metal churner was divine!

4.  Food  Of course, Mom was a great cook and produced “3 squares” for all of us plus our friends every single day.  But on many occasions, our family would drive to the river and take the barge across to the great state of Tennessee for fried catfish and hushpuppies.

We'd park our station wagon on the barge and all get out of the car and watch the Mighty Mississippi move us toward  the other side.  It smelled earthy and dank and felt like home.
We’d park our station wagon on the barge and all get out of the car and watch the Mighty Mississippi move us toward the other side. It smelled earthy and dank and felt like home.

5.  Reading  I never had to be told to go to my room and read.  I rode my bicycle to town several times a week and checked out great books on my own.  My friend, Julie, and I would compete to see who could read the most.  These were my 2 favorites:

She was the most clever girl I had ever known.
She was the most clever girl I had ever known.
She was kind and hard-working and was rewarded with fresh berries from her very own patch.
She was kind and hard-working and was rewarded with fresh berries from her very own patch.

When summer was coming to an end, the farmers would drive by my house with trailers full of freshly picked cotton on their way to the Killion-Rone-Wilson Cotton Gin – you know, the stuff your clothes are made of?  Oh, and do you recognize your Grandpa’s last name somewhere in that lineup?

One time I got to ride in the back of one of those cloud-filled trailers with my friends Annie, Jimmy and Michael – I paid for it the next day with my sneezing, but it was one of the most memorable rides to town I ever experienced.

This doesn't happen anymore - the new technology makes cotton into bales right there in the field as soon as it is picked.
This doesn’t happen anymore – the new technology makes cotton into bales right there in the field as soon as it is picked.

So, my darling children, I have tried to give you summers that are less about “achievement” and more about “experience,” but it is not so easy as it once was.  I have enjoyed every minute of our summers together, it will always be a magical time for me as your Mom.  Just thought you should know some of the reasons why our family isn’t as busy as other families – and happily so!!!!

Love,

Mom

Six Things That Just Aren’t Working For Me Any Longer

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I consider myself to be fairly intelligent, yet as I approach 50 and begin the journey of introspection that is all things “middle aged,” I am struck by how utterly obtuse I have been in the past by insisting to continue doing things that JUST DON’T WORK!  Specifically, they undermine any possibility of happiness in my life!

ERGO,

those of you that come into frequent contact with me, to avoid any confusion, here is my list of the 6 behaviors I am ABSOLUTELY SURE no longer “work” for me – be prepared, as you may notice (I hope) different behavior!

I hereby GIVE UP the following 6 things:

  • Refusing to recognize situations and people that kill my joy  As Lucinda Williams infamously croons, “You took my joy!  I want it back!,” I hereby declare that the microsecond  I notice a situation or individual taking my joy, I shall take a step back and perform a “challenges vs benefits” analysis.  My time and limited mental stability are too precious to allow anyone or anything to cause chronic grumpiness.  I could list examples but they are both too numerous and embarrassingly consistent so will leave this pledge in its due place at the TIP TOP of my list of “NOT WORKIN’ NO MORE” things I will avoid.
  • Waiting in line for a Goddam Diet Coke!  This one may cause my husband to pass out with utter elation!  I estimate that I have wasted 93.27 days in the past 28 years waiting in line at McDonald’s or some other fast food establishment for my Bloody Precious Diet Coke!0523151653 Believe me, Dear Reader, it shocks me even more than it may you, to recognize that I am, at long last, DONE wasting 2 hours a week of my soon-to-be 50 years on this beautiful planet — waiting for a liquid refreshment that is probably hastening my death.
    • Protecting the Guilty       Big Sigh Here……..  I am guessing that every Mother, Sister, Daughter, Wife, Friend – has regrets about situations in which, to avoid a socially awkward moment, she has neglected to speak up and call out another’s misguided, rude or intentionally hateful remark.  It is just what “polite” people are taught to do – remain civil and poised in social situations and allow the ASS to hang him/herself, if need be.  I. AM. DONE.  Henceforth, I vow to find the right words, tone and execution, to defend and support every single person I believe could be maligned in a social conversation – even if it makes everyone feel “Super Awk”!!!!
    • Apologizing For My Ofttimes Ghastly Taste in “The Finer Things.”   The next time I find myself in the company of “The Taste Police,”  I will remember the words to one of my favorite country songs, “This Here’s The Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” and speak proudly about whatever white trash food, art, music, entertainment or past-time that gives me pleasure.  Like my friends and family, I will defend my horrific taste with great ardour!
    • Leaving My Greatest Buddy, My Cocker Spaniel Rescue Puppy, Pudgey Killion Tamburini, behind.  I swear I would have qualified for a “therapy dog” 25 years ago had there been such a notion in the popular culture.  All I know is, from now on, my friends and family can expect that an invitation to me means A PACKAGE DEAL and that the love of my life, my therapy dog, Pudgey will “go whether thou  goest.”  I’ll be needing a dog bowl below my seat at your dinner table, please.
    • Finally, And Most Especially Poignant As I Approach “The Back 40” Of My Precious Time On This Planet – I REFUSE To Ever Again Be Rushed, Robbed, Gypped – Out Of Any Moment Or Experience I Want To Enjoy Because Some Grumpy Person I Am With May Be Unamused Or In A Hurry  Late for a meeting?  Carpool? Doctor’s Appointment?  Or Simply Bored?  Too bad.  From now on, if I happen to be enjoying feeling the sun on my face, wind up my skirt, scrolling movie credits, lingering after a delicious meal at a restaurant’s closing time – or WHATEVER – I am going to ignore your bullying attempts to make me hurry!!!  Because I don’t want to miss one single moment of soaking the entirety of this beautiful experience called Life  just because you are being an impatient jerk!

Why a 60-year-old Big Brother is even Cooler than a Teenaged One

I am 12 years younger than my oldest sibling, my big brother, Jim. He was born in 1954 and I was born in 1966, so we are literally a generation apart. He is one of the last hippies and I am one of the first Gen Xers. When I was 4, he went away to the Seminary for boarding school, so I don’t remember living with him all too well. My childhood was marked by the larger-than-life, highly anticipated homecoming visits of my big brother. He drove a brown 1974 Ford LTD and wore blue jean cutoff shorts. He played guitar and sang songs like “A Horse With No Name” by America. He was cool and everybody liked him. He could blow smoke rings and even wrote a song of the same name. When he was home, my Mom baked custard pie and cherry pie and seemed more content because her “Jimmy Dick” was nearby. He made my sister laugh so hard at the supper table milk would run through her nose and she’d get whacked on the top of the head by my Dad’s wedding ring.

Even though I had 4 beautiful and extremely popular older sisters, I most wanted to be like my big brother because he just emanated “cool,” kind of like Snoopy.

One Easter, Mom had us all lined up in front of the house dressed in our matching outfits so she could make a “home movie” to mark the day. 15-year-old Jim decided to walk like a hunchback so 3-year-old me followed suit dragging my bunny and basket in tow and wearing a bonnet, too. He elevated all the everyday, mundane things to the level of super cosmic. Every evening when he was home, Dad would watch “Batman” and “Get Smart” with him on tv while Mom made supper and the girls set the table. His laughter and quick wit filled the house with energy that lightened the pervasive “girl drama.” My Dad was happy and at his best when Jim was home, too. We all were.

The summer of 1972 my brother had a “far out” garage band. They played “Jumping Jack Flash” and “In A Godda Da Vida.” The kids from town would flock to our house to listen while my parents, glued to the Watergate hearings on tv, sat just inside in their recliners. I pretended to be Tracy Partridge and played tambourine in the background. Even though there was something awfully serious going on in the world that all the grownups seemed to be worried about, I felt safe, happy and most importantly, extra special, because my cool older brother’s band was the hottest thing going in our little town that summer.

So it is no surprise that it was exciting for me to take my 13- and 15-year olds across the country this summer to visit their Cool Uncle Jim, now 60 years old.

To me, having my kids connect with my oldest sibling was like watching 502996_16840263_1972_Ford_LTD200px-tracysingthem unlock a sacred vault into my past and experience the same exhilaration I did as a kid when Jim brought “funny” back to town. They loved him and who wouldn’t??Big Bro Oogling