Top 10 Summer Time Killers

I can remember the countdown to the last day of school like it was yesterday! We waited in anticipation for the coveted summer break to arrive. There were end of school parties, desk clean out days and extra recesses since there was, in all reality, nothing to do but be physically present so the school could collect state funding for the day. Ah, summer.
In summer, you could have sleepovers with your best friend ANY day of the week, not just on Friday.
You could sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.
You could play outside for hours only to be greeted by your mom delivering ice-cold RC cola and grilled cheese sandwiches served with crunchy Cheetos around noon.  You might be treated to a trip to the pool.  You could count on Dairy Queen numerous times, but especially on the way home from Grandma’s house on those hot sticky nights.  There were strawberries and blueberries to pick and be made into jam.  A trip to your grandparents’ home in Tennessee was always on the agenda.  There was the annual outing to a Cubs game which involved going into downtown on the train- a treat indeed.  Bible school marked the end of summer.  It was usually held in late August.  I always suspected this was to get us ready for “school mode” again.  But the best part of summer, was the laid back, less harried lifestyle we leisurely enjoyed.   I hope my kids get some of that.  I was blessed with a mom who got to be at home until I was in high school.  I have to juggle work and summer vacation- no easy feat.  We will see what happens this year.

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RC and Canasta

When the heat came sneaking in and smothered, Grandma would suggest “pop and some cards on the porch”. I always loved to sit on the front porch, probably because we didn’t have one. The fact that it was located on the second floor was also a bonus.  It gave one the affordance of being eye to eye with the occasional squirrel, a unique experience for me.  Our front “porch” could, more aptly, be referred to as a “stoop”. So, any opportunity to be out there on it was welcomed.
I would sweep it off and grandma would get our “stuff” ready. She would call me back through the apartment to the kitchen through to the utility room where I would collect two avocado green lawn chairs (think 1970s).  Then, she would remove two Libbey glasses in a deep, transparent royal blue with light blue, opaque flowers adorning their sides, from her open, above-the-sink cabinet.  She would pop the cap off of a cold RC and divide it between two heavily iced glasses. 

The porch was a narrow one and by the time you put two chairs and a TV tray out there, not much else would fit.  It didn’t matter.  We would sit and play canasta for hours, or so it seemed.  In retrospect, she had to be bored out of her mind because, Canasta- for two?  Seriously?  I, however, improved my skills and learned new ones.  She frequently stopped and advised a different play than the one I had just made.  She was good enough to let me pick up my wayward card and rethink my next move.  I won, a lot.  Or, at least I thought I won.  It felt good to beat Grandma.  She was pretty much an expert at Rummy, 21, 31, Eucre, Canasta, etc.  If it was a card game, she could play it.  And, she would win.

When the RC was gone and the condensation had puddled at the base of the glass, we would make our way back in to the ever so slightly cooler apartment.  The big box fan was positioned right at the end of the couch and so we shared that space in the slight coolness of the city night.

Apple Trees and Sauce and Jelly and Butter Oh,My!

Growing up, I got to spend extended time in the summers with my grandparents in Tennessee. Life in Tennessee was very different from life in Chicago. Even as a child, I was very aware of the cultural distinctions.

One of many differences was the fact that my grandparents had a garden and numerous fruit trees.   I didn’t know anyone with a fruit tree beyond the ornamental crab apple.  Northern winters are a little too cold for fragile trees.  There were pears, peaches, plums and apples, golden delicious, to be exact. Oh, and grapes too!   Each summer, at just the right time, my cousins, who were older, and better acquainted with tree climbing, were summoned to climb and shake the tree, thereby extracting the fruit so that I could gather it in large five gallon buckets. The fruit was sweet and ripe and wonderful. The rotten ones? Well, we just threw those down the hill to the compost pile where, apparently,they magically became “compost”. 

Compost was an oddity to me. We didn’t have a compost “heap” and I certainly didn’t know anyone else with one. However, I gathered that it was somehow intricately tied to a good garden, or fruit crop, or , well, . . . I wasn’t quite sure.  I just knew that we put all the scraps (well most of them anyway) on the compost “pile” each day. I’m not sure how some items were deemed unacceptable or inappropriate for the “heap”, but they were.  It all looked like a pile of trash to me.  At home, it all went in a bag and was taken to the curb.

Anyway, we would lug the buckets up the hill.  I would drag one and my grandparents each took two.  Once we were in the house, we had to “look them” for bugs, or worms, or whatever gets into apples.  I usually tried to avoid this part. Being from Northern Illinois, I wasn’t very schooled in “bugs”, nor for that matter, did I really WANT to be.  And, besides, at home, we never “looked” anything.  If you put the suffix “ed” on the end of look, that meant the event had already happened.  It was not an activity you were currently completing, nor was it something you would soon be doing.  It was done. You see my confusion.

Once the “looking” was done, it was time to peel.  I wasn’t very good at that either.  I was of absolutely no use with a knife and only somewhat useful with a vegetable peeler.  Once the peeling was done, I could chop.  Chopping made the coming cook time less.  So, I was Head Chopper.  I was so young that the complete process escapes me, I just know that by the end of a very long cook and process time, there was applesauce and apple butter or jelly, depending on the whim of the day.  At the end of the season, there was enough for a small army to make it through the winter.  I loved to hear the pop of the cans when they sealed.  It meant they were done and the best part was next!   It was then that  I got to write on the top of each one with a Sharpie.  This was SO worth waiting for!  Sharpies were contraband at my house- something about it bleeding through to a relatively new counter top in the days before the Magic Eraser Sponge.  I take the Fifth. 

In the years since, I have canned my own jams and jellies.  I have never made applesauce or apple butter.  I think that I could never “get it right”, in much the same way that some other recipes that belonged to my Mamaw are irreplicable.  She had a special touch.  I miss those times in her kitchen.  I was frequently “bored” and wanted to go play or create a grand outdoor adventure, but I learned so much.  It was really important to her that I be there and take it all in.  I wish she was still here to see all that I learned when she thought I wasn’t paying attention.