By Rick Houser –
I’ve noticed that when school is out for the summer and the days are their longest and warmest, parents today have to look for activities to keep their children occupied. Since most folks don’t live on farms or even out in too much of what we would have called the country, more stuff has to be found to help the children enjoy and the parents endure the summer break.
When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s a schedule of events planned out by parents was certainly not necessary. Children growing up then were their own self-appointed activity director, so to speak. The absolute worst statement a kid could make in those days was “I don’t have anything to do”. That plea would get you a long list of chores to do and if there weren’t enough chores to last, your parents would create more for you. To look or act bored (even if you might be) was definitely the wrong move.
Once out of school, most farm kids would help or be around the tobacco-setting activity as it was interesting and all your family was involved. Dad would let me follow the setter and reset plants if one was missed by the folks on the setter. It didn’t take too long for this job to become boring and the search for things to do began for real then.
Around the second week after school was out, our church began summer Vacation Bible School. This was every week day evening for two weeks. It was a fun thing to do because along with all the singing and seeing many of your school mates there were crafts to make and best of all the ladies aide saw to it that we all got cookies and Kool Aid each night. Most of the time the cookies were homemade and made the Bible School worth attending, but no matter how devoted a child wanted to be to church, it was hard to stay focused for two solid weeks, even if all the cookies were homemade our attention was fading.
Once Bible School ended it became even more important that kids be creative. My cousin Walt had a tent and we would use it a lot for our home base and “no girls” were allowed. Also, I would go over to Herb and Charlie Marshalls’ and we would camp out in the club house we had built. The “no girls” allowed rule was enforced there also. (For some reason boys go through that phase but get over it as they get older and wiser.)
Camping took some of the time and our club house and the tent helped keep us busy. As summer rolled along there were cookouts and reunions and some days we just would ride our bikes around the neighborhood, always making sure we packed our army surplus canteens with us to keep us hydrated. Later in the summer, the lightning bugs would appear at dark and we would poke holes in a jar lid and capture as many as we could. A lot of lightning bugs in a jar in the dark was really quite a sight to see and a minor marvel of Mother Nature.
One item that we always used for entertainment was the tobacco stick. It is doubtful that today’s kids even know what that is. They were abundant in my day and a three-foot long piece of wood made to hold stocks of tobacco in the barns could be converted into almost anything the young mind could conjure up. They were great for a rifle or a spear. They were great for a walking stick as we explored the woods nearby or maybe even farther away than we should have been.
Add some baling twine to a stick and it could be tied onto your bike or a tricycle depending on your age. When playing army and war, a tobacco stick made for a great pair of crutches. Kids were just drawn to tobacco sticks.
There was one drawback with using the tobacco sticks. For some unknown reason kids have the worst time remembering to put the sticks back in the piles that our fathers had stored them in so they could find them come tobacco cutting time. It’s safe to say that using the stick always ended up in a bad situation in which the only way a child could survive was to gather them up and put them back in a nice and orderly fashion.
In the rainy time of the summer when the creeks ran higher we would wade in them and do some swimming. Since we didn’t know how to swim very well and we weren’t allowed to go in deep water, we got as close to the deep as we felt was safe, and there got as wet and cooled off as we could. To get into trouble here would show to our parents that maybe we did this because we were bored. That was the place we never wanted to go. “Run silent and run deep”, but mainly don’t draw attention to what you were doing. It is safe to say that then, just as it is today, if you aren’t causing them any trouble then all must be good.
A summer would roll right along until that big old yellow school bus began making its’ appearance on our road, signalling the end of the fun.
We made up our own games and maybe they sound dull to you now, but to us they were fun and we must have enjoyed them all because they carried us from the end of May to the beginning of September. I look back at those days and can thankfully say that rarely was I ever bored.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.