I remember July nights in which lightning bugs competed with bats for our attention--cool, moist July nights, after the mosquito truck had sprayed pungent, glorious DDT from what seemed for all the world like a huge water cooler on its bed.
I liked the smell of DDT in the cool evening. We still had plenty of mosquitos, but sadly, very few hawks or herons, during that time before they banned DDT.
We'd sometimes capture the lightning bugs in jars, to make lanterns, but the lanterns never lasted. Lightning bugs die very soon after incarceration. Lanterns were always better as fantasies than as realities. Those paper chinese lanterns we made in school proved useless for lighting.
I remember fading afternoons on the 4th of July, lighting smoke bombs, which emitted an acrid, colorful smoke. My father had seen one too many firecracker accidents during his country doctor emergency room days, so we were forbidden anything that did not fly away to explode. But we played with sparklers, waving them in great circles around us. We shot off bottle rockets from Dr. Pepper bottles. Some rockets flew, with gratifying whistles. Some rockets fizzled, and a few rockets required us to duck. Our friends had artillery such as cherry bombs and MX-80s, which they'd use to make shrapnel-spewing pipe mortars, fortunately harming nobody.
Late at night, we'd light roman candles, 4 ball or 8 ball or 12 ball, and watch the little flaming balls head straight up into the air.
On July evenings we went to the little baseball field to play in the sports leagues. The lights of the baseball field always attracted huge green luna moths, with wingspans spreading across several inches, which hovered in the lights like benevolent creatures from another planet. Whenever the game grew tiresome, we'd be able to just lean our heads back and watch the moths hover far above us. We'd buy chili dogs from the cinderblock concession stand, and in some years the snow cone machine worked.
We'd take bicycle rides down country roads, or up the one high hill, coasting down the hill at wild speed. Our bikes all had butterfly handlebars and banana seats. The handle bars usually had ribbons protruding from them. The bike seats were always in "far out" colors like purple or banana yellow.
For spending money, we'd either mow yards or collect coke bottles, which we'd sell the grocer at a nickel each. Two nickels bought a candy bar, three a coke, and five a chocolate milk shake. There was not toy store, but the dime store featured lots of things one could buy for less than a dollar. A sack of plastic army men or cowboys and indians cost a dollar. A baseball bat cost five or seven dollars. A
paddle with a rubber ball attached cost fifty cents. A Super Ball, which reached incredible heights when bounced off pavement, cost about a dollar. Soap bubbles and a small wand cost fifty cents, and a model of a car to be glued together cost 85 cents.
In the Summer, the townspeople would fund raise through "follies" and "junior follies", when folks would sing and dance and perform skits in the high school auditorium. My siblings and I dressed in cute bear outfits our mother made us for a rousing rendition of "Bare Necessities" from "The Jungle Book". Another year I made a lot of people laugh when I sang "Jubilation T. Cornpone" from "L'i' Abner". The laughter arose because my father's sword kept clanging against the mike stand each time I swaggered by the mike.
We had a tiny cabin near White Oak Lake, a red cedar looking structure that always smelled vaguely of fishing worms and old quilts. It was but twenty miles from the town in which we lived, so sometimes we'd spend a week or two in the cabin, and my father would commute into town for work. My brother and I would stand on a tiny wooden fishing dock and catch dozens of bream. We'd throw back the small ones, and keep the larger ones. Periodically, my mother would fry the fish for dinner, using corn meal and flower. We had to always be vigilant for water mocassins, the local poisonous snake so common in the lake that one saw a water mocassin swimming in the lake almost any time one went boating. We never got bitten by a snake, though one of our puppies did.
We'd find honeysuckle vines and open the flowers, drinking in the drip of nectar. The early Spring honeysuckle was not tasty--too watery. The latest Summer honeysuckle was too tart. The mid-Summer honeysuckle tasted right.
We rarely let a head of dandelion spores sit, but instead picked the dandelion, and blew the seeds off the head into the air. We hunted through fields of clover, sometimes finding one with four leaves. Near my father's father's place in the country, on lucky, rare days, we picked wild blackberries where they grew abundantly on the vines.
We rarely went barefoot, because brambles and thorns awaited everywhere. We wore Keds and Red Ball Jet tennis shoes instead. We knew how to make a spear out of a cattail plant stem, how to fish for crawdads with bacon on a string after a rain (I never remember catching one,though), and how to play a world of games at vacation bible school, from "Red Rover" to "Red Light, Green Light, One, Two, Three" to "Mother May I". We were dab hands at "musical chairs" (for which the song played while the children circled the ever-diminishing chair stockpile was always "Pop goes the Weasel"). We could drop handkerchiefs with the best of them at birthday parties, and we could pin the donkey's tail with aplomb.
Sometimes someone would start up an ice cream truck business in our town, and the little jolly songs would emit from trucks which had seen better days, bought second hand by a teen or twenty something in hope of making summer money. I'd always have an ice cream sandwich.
We rode our bikes everywhere without fear. We knew not to talk to strangers, but no strangers tried to talk to us very often. We did not take the long family vacations I hear from friends that their families took, but I never remember being bored. There was "nothing to do" in our town, but I never remember being without things to do.
My wife pointed out to me last night how I must learn to see my neighborhood as a place to have fun, so that I need not drive off for a hike. I see a lot of point to this. I did most of my most fun travelling before I had a car. I did a lot of my best holiday-making before I did anything, really, for the holidays.