Sounds, smells, tastes. How would you best describe summer?
Sounds, smells, tastes. How would you best describe summer? If I look back to my misspent youth, it’s the sound of the music from the ice cream truck six blocks away, the smell of a campfire at night, the taste of the ocean when a wave catches you by surprise. Summer was escape, a time to shift down and slow down. A time to mix gallons of Kool-Aid, roast marshmallows and clip baseball cards to the spokes of your bicycle. A time for puppy love at camp from someone who would leave you in September. A time for music where the boys of summer rule, summer lovin’ happens so fast and a summer breeze can make you feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in your mind.
As we celebrate summer in the Capital Region, I thought it might be fun to look back to the things I did as a child and see if any of these remind you of, well, you.
Camping – My dad worked at the Watervliet Arsenal, so when things shut down for two weeks in July everyone took a mandatory vacation. Money was tight for my parents so we packed up the tent and headed northwest for Caroga or Canada Lake. If you’ve never been tenting, I can tell you it’s a blast, except for three specific times: at night, when it rains and when nature calls.
You see, at night, the creatures of the forest come out with one goal: to eat you alive. To do it, they must penetrate your complex security system known as the tent flap. If your tent has just one hole the size of a grain of rice, the bugs will get in, swarm and leave just a skeleton behind.
When it rains, the water will bypass the small trench you’ve dug around your dwelling and wash you away. And, of course, nothing quite smells like wet burlap in the morning.
Then there’s the bathroom. Did I mention there isn’t one? You can find the nearest bush, or if you’re feeling especially brave, go to the community outhouse that all the other campers use. Dirty, full of slivers and often overrun with giant spiders. I think there were summers where my entire family didn’t, you know, for a whole week straight.
Swimming – I grew up in the city (Troy), where you were more likely to see Sasquatch playing Yahtzee in someone’s backyard than a built-in pool. That meant if you wanted to cool off you went to the public pool. The one my brothers and I would frequent was free in the morning and ten cents from noon until close. If that sounds cheap, you have to remember this was the early 70s, when candy bars were a dime and a bottle of Yoo-hoo was a just a quarter. The public pool was a microcosm for the real world every child would some day enter. Jocks over here, nerdy kids over there, and the cute girls always talking to the bad boys. The biggest thrill was getting up the nerve to jump off the high dive. I don’t think the jump was as bad as the long climb up the ladder.
As much fun as the pool could be, I spent more of those hot summer days at Crystal Lake in Averill Park. It only cost a buck or two for a carload of kids and my mom would pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. They had a long dock for fishing and a raft that sat 100 feet from shore. It was a right of passage for every child to someday swim all the way out. Of course, once you got there a bigger kid always tossed you off for fun.
Baseball – If you’ve ever seen the movie “Sandlot”, this is exactly my life. A group of boys would meet up at Geer Field in South Troy with their torn jeans and crumpled caps and play pickup baseball every day. Unlike organized baseball, there was no umpire and you weren’t allowed to wait for a good pitch. If it was near the plate you’d better swing or by God someone would toss a bat at you. It was heaven. When you got thirsty there wasn’t any bottled Poland Spring; instead you searched the weeds for an old dirty soda bottle, rinsed it out at the nearby stream and took a drink. It’s amazing we didn’t end up in the emergency room.
Fort – Maybe it was a Troy thing. but summer was never complete if we didn’t gather up some scraps of wood, steal a few nails from Dad’s toolbox and build ourselves a fort. It was a ragtag structure about as comfortable as the electric chair, but we thought it was the Taj Mahal. It was there that I learned how to cuss, play poker and took my first taste of alcohol. Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, of course. When kids today want a fort their parents whip out the platinum card and buy some plastic contraption at Toys R Us. Trust me, it’s not the same. Every boy should know what it’s like to build his own fort from scratch.
A recent study found that, for the first time in a long time, the majority of Americans do not plan to take a vacation this summer because they simply can’t afford it. As sad as that sounds, I’m willing to bet all the money in my pocket that your best childhood summer memories carried little or no price tag. They involved friends and family and moments measured in laughter. Moments that are as fleeting as a lightening bug on a hot July night. So grab some before they’re gone.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org