We have been up here, thirty-eight miles outside of Bend, Oregon on the shore of the Crane Prairie Reservoir in the Deschutes National Forest, an area of 2500 square miles, for about a week now. Most of the time, the weather has been down in the 30’s at night with highs almost reaching 60 degrees by mid-afternoon. Some days, the thermometer would barely reach 40 with a stiff cold wind blowing down from the nearby mountain peaks and across the lake. The park here has about a hundred camping spots, with only about fifteen or so being used at any given time. The trees are 100 foot tall pines mostly, with lot of spruce and fir, and the noisiest thing in the park are the chipmunks squeaking as then scurry from hole to hole. Late afternoon today, all of that changed.
Today was the last day of school for the local school district, signaling to every child that summer vacation has officially begun. Trailers and tents, with kids in tow are now flooding it to our little paradise. I love hearing their giggles and voices as they ride their bikes and celebrate freedom.
One of the best parts of my life what the last day of school during my elementary school years. The next few months meant a time of absolutely no responsibility. No getting up early, no schoolwork, no homework, no strict bedtime. I did not realize at the time that bedtime was as much to give my parents a break as it was for me to get sleep. I could sleep as late as a wanted, provided by brothers and sisters did not wake me up, which they usually did, and the bedtime rule was relaxed by about a half an hour. Usually, I was so tired from playing hard all day, that I went to bed at the regular time anyway. Really, the only things I HAD to do was make up my bed, keep my room clean, and take a bath. I wonder why little boys hate to take baths, at least I did.
The way my parents knew that I had taken a bath was to check and see if my back was still wet. It seems I never really dried it off, so that was their way of checking to see if I was telling the truth. I figured this out when I was about six, so I tried just sitting on the edge of the tub, running the water and then splashing it on my back. I think it worked once or twice until my mom walked in on me when I was sitting on the edge of the tub, reaching down to let the water out, and water running down my back from a soaked wash cloth. She made me put the stopper back in the tub, and get in it. Oh, the indignity of it all, being caught, totally naked, in a perfectly good scheme. She then closed the door and waited outside as I ranted, “Meanest woman I ever saw, making a six-year old boy take a bath every day.” She later told me she had to cover her mouth so I would not hear her laughing. It may have been the funniest thing she had ever heard.
I later learned that baths were not so bad if I would put a little water in the tub, then take the soap and soap up the side and my body. I could then just slide around the tub, stark naked and make a game out of it. I got to where I could spin half way around and slide head first down to the drain. I learned the hard way to watch out for the faucet. Zest was the preferred soap because it was slicker than Ivory. Then all I had to do was add water and rinse. No wash cloth required.
Apart from the bath taking, life in the summertime was great. After a quick bowl of cereal, it was outside for a tough day of bike riding, sandlot softball games, games of chase or hide and seek, and tree climbing. Our house was on a corner and had a big side yard so the neighborhood kids would gather there. If we wanted to play softball, we would walk the four or five blocks down to the elementary school, but our yard was the perfect size for whiffle ball. Kids today have no idea what that is, but in my childhood, that was a staple. The bat was plastic, a little smaller than a regular baseball bat, and the ball was about the same size as a baseball, only hollow with holes all in it. You could smack the dickens out of the ball and it would go no more than about fifty feet. If someone hit a fly ball, it would seem to take forever to finally come down. They would usually be rounding second base when someone caught it. If they dropped it, the batter had an easy triple of maybe even a home run.
I remember the way we chose teams was for the two biggest kids, because they could beat up everybody else, to toss a bat. One would toss the bat to the other, who would catch is at a strategic position on the handle, then they would alternate putting their hands on it until the winning hand got to the top of the bat. That “captain” would then get first pick. You knew you had arrived as a valuable player when you were not the last person chosen. If you were a little kid, that could take years to achieve.
There was usually no set number of innings. We just played until we got tired, it was lunch time, or someone’s mom yelled for them to come home. If we had to stop mid-inning and it was a close game, there would inevitably be an argument about who really won. “Your runs in the top of the inning don’t count because we didn’t get our full at-bat. Yeah, but we had the most runs when we had to stop.” We argued for a while, then usually got on our bikes and declared, “We won.”
Racing our bikes was other great past time. We already knew who would win, because he always won and who would finish last, because he always finished last. The real bragging rights were really in the middle of the pack. Sometimes I would beat my best friends and sometimes they would beat me. No matter, “Just wait till next time.”
Real courage, however, was determined by who would climb the highest in a tall tree in our yard. When you are only six years old, getting up on the first branch, five feet off the ground, was the first great accomplishment. The tree was too big to get my legs around, so I found a rope and spent hours getting it over an upper limb. I tied a knot in it so I could get on that first branch whenever I wanted to. I remember sitting in that trees for hours, surveying the neighborhood and spying on the neighbors on their front porch. That rope stayed in the tree for years and was there when we moved away.
I do not remember being called in for lunch, though I cannot remember missing a meal. I grew up on peanut and butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches, usually with carrots and a glass of milk. Meals were just something to fill me up for an afternoon of hard play.
There was nothing to worry about then. Eat, Play, Sleep, that was our mantra back then. One of the worst things that could happen was an afternoon thunderstorm, because we all had to go home then, sometimes, even have to take a nap. That was really just the grownups way of getting us to get quiet for a while. Otherwise, we played until dark and it was time to eat supper, or dinner if you were more sophisticated.
I had one older brother, two older sisters, and a younger brother. My oldest brother’s job was to cut the grass and take out the garbage, my sisters had to wash the dishes and put them away, and my job was to dry them. It always bothered me that my sister could take a handful of silverware and swish them in the dishwater, rinse them, and declare there were clean. I had to take each piece separately and dry them. Why couldn’t I just swish them in the hand towel and that be good enough? Such is the logic of a six-year old
After dinner was an hour or so watching one of three channels on our only TV, a black and white Zenith, that was in the living room. Houses back then, at least ours, did not have a den. Then it was time for the dreaded bath and on to bed. It was great being six years old. The only injustices in the world were that the older kids got to stay up thirty minutes past their younger sibling’s bed time, and my younger brother still being a baby, his bedtime was whenever he went to sleep. That was the worst of my world back then, baths and the first bedtime. I think I would like to be six again.