When is summer? Our calendar says it is a certain day in June which gives us the most daylight and the shortest amount of night. It depends on the earth’s rotation and can happen sometime between June 20 and June 22. Recently I got to thinking that summer was much simpler back in the mid-1960s when I was growing up. I wanted to share some of my memories.
First off, summer started back then when the school year ended, usually the 1st of June. Even the last day of school was a taste of the freedom to come.
I remember that we did silly things like have squirt gun fights, fly paper airplanes in class, and (heaven forbid) chew gum! We would dress funny or wear our hair differently. One classmate collected unwanted school papers for his bonfire that night! We couldn’t wait for the last day to pass. Most teachers let us have a good time. The craziness carried over to the bus ride home. Now summer could really begin!
There were plenty of things to do to pass the time. We had Little League games at the ball field by the Masaryktown Community Hall. The games would be played on June evenings, usually twice a week. One game or even a double header. It was a chance to see my friends. We saw very little of the game activity. Instead we would walk over to the “hall” playground to talk and visit, or just walk around the neighborhood. If someone knew someone who had a car we might get a ride to Brooksville and be back before we were missed.
I liked reading. Books were high on my summer list. There were many trips to the one and only library in Brooksville. I would return with armloads of books. I also ordered paperbacks by mail, most at a cost of 50 cents each. I would get packages of 9 or 10 books at a time. Read them quickly, and order more. While reading I might sit on our big lounge chair that I dragged out to the back yard. Summer was a chance to work on my tan. Skin cancer was not given a thought at all while I slathered up. Baby oil or the lowest UV coverage tanning oil were preferred.
Farm work didn’t stop for summer. I might have to break away from tanning and quickly put on a swim cover-up. I might be the only one home to help a customer who drove up our driveway and wanted to buy eggs. Also, the eggs still had to be picked and washed every day, at least twice a day. At night I would have to put the chickens “to bed”—-that meant chasing them out of nests and guiding them to the roosts. I went out in the dark, flashlight in hand, looking for any animals like opossums or skunks that could do damage. I could have my free time after the chicken’s schedule was met.
A special afternoon would be when we finished farm chores early and could take off for Pine Island. Mom would pack a cooler with sandwiches and Dad would grab his fishing pole. My brother Lou took his rod and reel. I might take a book to read. The water was always warm and you could walk out and keep walking and only be knee deep. On the beach I would chase fiddler crabs and catch them in a cup. I might try my luck with the cane pole and catch a few brim. All was quiet back then. Few people. We would head home before dark.
When I was 14 my birthday present was a transistor radio. I would listen to WLCY (a Tampa station) and write down their Top 40 Hits. I loved music. I would even take the radio out with me to the chicken coop while gathering eggs. I’d have to pause sometimes in my egg count–everything stopped if my favorite song came on! Trips to town included purchases of the latest record or album. Also I would be on the lookout for new music when my parents made monthly family visits to Tampa. No interstate highway for Dad back then, just a drive south on Hwy 41 to Dale Mabry. My cousin Len and I would spend many hours shopping for records and listening to them. The radio was always on. We also went bowling or played putt putt golf. We might be dropped off and picked up later. We were allowed to walk all around his neighborhood from a young age. Within a few blocks we could be at a local grocery for soda, candy, and comic books. We were 14 and it was nothing to go off for hours walking around Bayshore Blvd. and its side streets.
Movies were a popular summer pass time. I couldn’t wait for the next big movie to come out. My older brother Lou could drive. We made many trips to Tampa for the latest shows. My cousin Len and I also took a bus to and from his house to the movies.. At the time there were only three indoor movie theaters that I remember in Tampa. They were the Florida, the Palace, and the Tampa Theater. Ticket prices were about $1. Only one of the three theaters I named remains today. The Tampa Theater was saved from the wrecking ball. This downtown landmark still shows classic movies and hosts many special events. I remember if we really liked a movie we might stay and watch it twice. We would wait for the crowd to leave and just stay in our seats. Soon the lights would dim for the next showing. Sometimes we got home really late! It was a different time. No one cared if you stayed.
Summer was a time for playing with my girlfriends. We all had bikes and would go from house to house looking for something to do for the day. If someone knew someone with a pool we would swim for hours until our skin pruned up. We would read our books or talk about the latest TV shows. We thumbed through the latest teen magazines or comic books. I was terribly obsessed with David McCallum and The Man from UNCLE TV show. Also with James Bond movies and the Bond books by Ian Fleming. Meanwhile we were a one TV household. Black and white. It would take some persuasion to see my favorite TV show especially when it conflicted with something really important to other family members, like sports. Dad and my brother Lou couldn’t possibly understand!
We followed the space program on TV, too. There would be missions like Gemini 9A in June. The original Gemini 9 crew died in a training crash in February so the mission had been renamed. Hard to believe we were watching just the second US spacewalk that summer. Then came Gemini 10 in July. More missions would follow that fall. Men landing on the moon would happen before too long. They would set foot on the moon one night in July three years later.
I was thrilled in 1966 when I got to fly to my aunt’s house in Illinois. It was a chance to go to their summer home in northern Wisconsin. Then it was a 6 hour drive to the small town of St. Germain. I can remember getting up at 3 a.m. and piling into my uncle’s car. So dark. Miles of Wisconsin farmland. The adults wanted to be at the lake in time for some mid-morning fishing. My cousin Sue and I had a great week. We listened to records, read books, played cards, took long walks and picked berries. We sat up on the roof listening to the radio and worked on our tan. We took the rowboat out and never got tired of the lake.
Other things come to mind. We would take trips to Tampa and spend time at North Gate, a big shopping center on Dale Mabry.
I would also see movies at Britton Plaza which was located near my cousin. That shopping center was at the corner of Dale Mabry and Euclid.
Air conditioning in stores was still a real treat. Escalators were fun. I was also impressed with my Dad’s new Chevy Impala and its icy cold air.
Another memory is from the 4th of July. I remember that Dad would put road flares in our pine trees on the farm. They would light up the whole yard and give me enough room to run around with lit sparklers. The sparkler wires had a thick combustible coating that lasted a long time, producing showers of sparks. Nothing like those little things you get today that last no time! More powerful fireworks were not sold in Florida back then. Occasionally someone would show up with firecrackers or cherry bombs from a trip to Georgia.
Long conversations on the phone passed many summer hours. I could talk on and on to my girlfriends about nothing and everything.
We had a party line. You might find that you had to cut your talk short because a neighbor wanted to use the phone.
Most homes had just one landline, in a central place, in a single room. A click on the line meant someone was picking up, wanting to get on.
Not much privacy. And we survived the summer without home air conditioning, too. Cross ventilation and an attic fan served us well in the house. We did our farm work in the egg room in front of a big pedestal fan.
We enjoyed three long months of freedom from June until the very end of August. Summer would eventually come to an end when school started. I’d have to adjust again to getting up early, taking bus rides, doing homework, and attending classes. A new school year would fill up our busy lives. Was it really time for all those lazy days to end? Summers would get more complex as the years went on. There would be boyfriends, cars, dating, drive-in movies, summer jobs, and much more to think about than those simple months I remember from 1966.