If I could package the feeling I had when I was in the 5th or 6th grade and Memorial Day came I could become a millionaire. The idea that a looooooonnnnng summer ( it seemed time went by much more slowly in the days) was coming with no school work, even though I loved school, no having to wear a certain kind of clothes, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school, and best of all no having to get up and out at a certain time, was intoxicating. By now we would have either made or planned a trip all the way to Dayton to buy summer clothes for me at Rike’s department store. I am not sure why my mother thought the clothes from Rike’s were superior, maybe they wore better since we did not have as many clothes in those days and they had to stand up to being played in and washed, but she always bought my school and play clothes from Rike’s. Because, as I have written before, we lived next door to East High and the “colored” part of the Memorial Day parade would be forming basically in front of our house , getting ready to march towards downtown and join up with the white part of the parade at the Fire Station on Main Street, my mother took great care in what I would have on for Memorial Day. It had to be red or blue or red white and blue. Until I was old enough to state my objections clearly the ribbons in my hair had to match.
The day that started off summer was sublime. Not only did it mean the end of school for months, it meant warm days, the excitement of the parade forming, a picnic, either in our back yard or in Bryan Park, and everyone being in a good mood. My father loved all holidays, my mom, not so much. Unlike other holidays like Easter and Christmas there was no need to decorate for Memorial Day beyond maybe a flag and some bunting and because those were outside they were considered male duties. . No need for deep, deep house cleaning either. If we had company they were going to eat outside like the rest of us. The cooking was shared, with the men grilling and the women preparing simple things that could be done in advance like baked beans and potato salad. That meant the moms were in a good mood on a holiday for a change. My mother only seemingly enjoyed two holidays when we were younger, Memorial Day and Fourth of July, the rest of the holidays involved elaborate dinners, polishing silver and lots of work.
When I was small we would simply watch the newly formed black part of the parade go past our house, but later my father decided we should watch the entire parade, not just the black part. We would go down and establish a spot on the courthouse lawn, on more than one occasion I watched the parade from the cannon on the courthouse grounds. My father had seen a couple of white kids sitting on it the year before and decided that it was time for a little social justice, so he hoisted me up to sit and watch. It was not a particularly good seat comfort wise, the barrel of the cannon was not only rather slippery it was also a bit rusty in places, but I was thrilled to be up that high and to be able to claim the cannon as my private viewing post.
Because we lived next to the school and therefore the playground I knew I would have no shortage of playmates for the summer. Unfortunately my neighborhood ( it was unusual to go more than a couple of streets over for friends in those days) was short on females. That meant my summers were mainly spent with either me reading under a tree or playing baseball, football or some created sport with a bunch of hard ankles. Even in those days of upper level grade school I tended to be a bit aggressive, uh assertive and I think that was another reason I tended to hang out with the boys more than the girls. My three choices were Jimmette who was older, Tootles, whose mother was white and therefore seemed a bit odd to me , she also went to the Catholic school, and Sarah Ann ( for some reason people frequently called girls by two names then, Barbara Jeanne, Sarah Ann,Mary Ester, not sure why) who was a complete and utter wimp. Sarah Ann did nothing physical period. She would not even play jacks, let alone dodge ball. Every evening in the summer she would go into her house, take a bath, put on a dress and sit on the front porch to wait for her daddy, Big Jim to come home from the pool hall he owned and ran. I hated Sarah Ann at one point because her appearance on the front porch was a signal for my mother to begin yelling “Coooookie!” That meant I had to go home. Some of the best games and talks seemed to always start shortly before dusk and that mean the call from my mother cut them off. One did not dare not appear, the consequences would have been dire. I am fascinated sometimes about how some children talk to their mothers. My mother did not hit me, except for that one spanking when I was five for falling in the hole, but let’s not revisit that, but she did not have to anymore than I had to hit my kids to make them mind. When did moms lose their juju?
And what on earth made children get “bored?” If my mother left me alone when I was 11 I could amuse myself all day and this was before computers, iPads, iPods and more than four channels on the television set. If I had ever presented myself to my mother and announced I was bored I would have been given several household chores to fill my time, from dusting to cutting grass. We tried to stay out of the view of our parents during the summer so we could avoid chores. The first time one of my children told me, less than two weeks after school was over, that he was bored i was amazed. I admit that shortly thereafter I fell into the pattern that was the middle class norm. The kids were enrolled in summer camp, lessons, excursions, you name it, they barely had a minute of free time, but then if they did get a lull in the activity they announced they were bored.
My summers were never boring, they were full of catching lightening bugs, riding your bicycle behind the bug truck that sprayed for mosquitoes, ( wonder we are not all dead) , running, jumping, hitting a ball or dodging a ball, roller skating, bike riding, playing jacks and Mother-May-I? Going to Girl Scout Camp at Camp Greene, trips to the zoo, to Bryan Park, to Glen Helen, to see the fireworks, to go to the County Fair. It was a magical time. If ever I felt tempted to recite Elizabeth Allen’s poem it would be on the day before Memorial Day. Hope yours is wonderful!
Backward turn backward
O Time, in your flight
Make me a child again just for