I don’t know who decided that Memorial Day is the official start of summer. The “real” official start of summer is the last bell of the last class on the last day of school. The doors fly open, the seasons automatically change, and the wild-eyed wards of the great institutions of learning are unleased upon their bewildered parents who have just one question, “When does school start again?” I can still remember the overpowering joy of being free of the inhumane torture of tests, classroom projects, essays, and slave-driving teachers until sometime late in August.
It was a glorious time for me and my neighborhood pals. The summer stretched out before us like a decade of adventure, mystery and excitement. Nothing to do but ride bikes, go to the city pool, go to the Dixie theater, play cowboys and Indians, explore abandoned buildings and skillfully avoid any chores, jobs, rules, regulations, or anything else that remotely dealt with the idea of work or discipline. You had to start getting in shape early for summer. In April you started going barefoot so your feet would be toughened up by the end of May. That way, when you sprang out of bed on those summer mornings, you just turned off the window fan, put on a pair of old shorts, rubbed your crew cut hairstyle, and you were ready for the day (no shoes or shirt needed). You knew where all the dogs of the neighborhood hung out and which ones to avoid and which ones you could outrun on your bike. If a dog chased you, it was usually because he just liked the game. Either that or he had been turned mean, and he really wanted to see you flip into the ditch. I had a boxer named Nip who was mean if he didn’t personally know you. He was bad about wandering off too. For some reason, he liked to go uptown. More than once, Sheriff Josh Lewis sent him back home. A taxicab would pull up in front of the house, and Nip would reluctantly climb out. I guess everybody likes to go to town every now and then. Town was always crowded on Saturdays. The theater would sell you a ticket for 25 cents and you could watch a Western in the morning and the feature movie in the afternoon and all the cartoons, serials and previews. Every so often they had a special event called “Fine Time for a Dime.” Then, you even got popcorn thrown in with the deal. The best way to wind up a Saturday downtown was at “Lucille’s.” It was right across the street from the Dixie theater. There has never been and never will be a better hot dog or hamburger than what you could get from Mrs. Lucille. There was a lunch counter that went all the way around the room with stools for everybody, and you watched these masterpieces being prepared right in front of you. Then you got to select your Coca Cola or Nehi Grape or Orange from an icy pool in the drink box. I would swap a ten-course meal in Paris France or New York City for one more hot dog from Lucille’s.
Well, that’s just a little of what the start of summer seemed like to me way back then. We had the world on a string and did it all without the Internet or smartphones, or Facebook, TikTok, video games, or artificial intelligence or wokeness, (whatever that is). We were just growing up in a small town with the promise of tomorrow and the freedom to go anywhere in the world that you wanted, or the freedom to just stay put right here. It was a pretty wonderful way to spend the summer and a pretty wonderful way to grow up.
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