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TideWriters Tales
Summer Vacations~Part One
By Catherine C. Brooks 

     By the end of May in the 1930s, all schools had closed for the summer and teachers, who had boarded in private homes, were back from whence they came the previous September. Our books sat in safe storage, ready for a younger sibling or to sell to students in the grade that we had just completed.

     The first couple days of school vacation, I just did my thing—I know today as relaxing. But growing plants or ripening fruits and vegetables didn’t wait so needed attention. Daddy had taught me how to catch potato bugs and mash their eggs the year before I went in first grade. Since we didn’t have sprays or powders to destroy the insects up to that time, this method sufficed for family gardens. And by June, there were abundance of the pests, eating away the leaves of the Irish plants.

     I begged a small jar with a lid from Momma because I couldn’t crush the hard-backed critters. Once in the garden, I picked the insects off the leaves, putting them in the jar to die. Then I looked under each leaf, squashing the yellow patches of dots that I knew were eggs. I tried to bend the leaf to help do the mashing, but I knew no way to keep the gooey yellow juice off my fingers. Before I reached more than halfway the end of the 30-foot row, my back balked, and my yellowed-sticky fingers squalled for soap and water. So with the sun growing hotter by the minute, I tightened the lid on the jar and trotted to the house. I could finish the job the next day.

     During summer after the first and second grades, I brought small kindling and loads of chopped firewood, with the help of my wagon, to the wood boxes that sat on the back stoop to use in the wood-burning range. During the summer, Momma only used the wood stove to cook breakfast and heat laundry water on wash days. She had a kerosene range on which to cook dinner and supper. Momma didn’t get as overcome by the heat while cooking on the kerosene stove. And since we ate in the large kitchen, we didn’t need any extra warmth on a hot day.

     During the summer of my seventh birthday, I had time to play or do what I wanted after we ate and did dishes at noon. I usually practiced my numbers, letters and writing my name on any pages left in my tablet with the Indian Chief on the front. In those days preschool was an unknown term and kindergarten for the very rich. I tried to read new books, but usually just looked at the pictures because the reading was too grown-up for me. While in the second grade, Granny Richardson brought me a 17-piece-stamped-luncheon cloth set with embroidery floss and needles so I could learn one of the arts that she enjoyed. Since at first I needed Momma’s help to begin, I had to save the new project until after supper dishes were finished and put up. Boy was embroidering fun—all the women in Momma’s family were known for their beautiful handiwork so I wanted to learn too. But I had trouble with French knots and daisy stitches at first.I’d just pull them out and start over until I’d conquered the project for that day. After a couple of weeks, I could do the job alone so didn’t have to wait until evening.

     Then when wild blackberries ripened, we went early in the morning to pick them because it would be too hot later in the day with our extra clothes. We each donned long-sleeved shirts or dresses and boots or galoshes, and Momma put on a pair of Daddy’s old work overalls with the bottoms rolled up and tucked into boots. We needed to cover all the flesh possible because briars scratched and chiggers, too small for us to see, crawled up any space possible and buried themselves into our bodies to feed. But the juicy fruit filled a need for food, and we knew it as a treat. From the first picking, Momma made pies, tarts and the rest we ate raw with sugar and cream. From the following pickings, we ate a few berries, but Momma canned and made preserves for winter with most of them. If Granddaddy and Granny Richardson were coming for the weekend, she would save enough for two pies for Sunday’s dinner.

     The first few days after picking wild berries, we watched for chiggers. Momma dabbed any spots that swelled with a drop of kerosene, or turpentine, one or more times, and the pests died. The tasty berries were well worth the discomfort of a few itching spots, about which we soon forgot.

     I didn’t help pick the peas, string beans or lima beans until I grew older. So I played with my younger sister, Lou, while Momma picked. But I helped shell them either that afternoon or the next morning. We had a heavy-two-seated lawn swing, which had been intended to hold four adults, with a large-platform between the seats.It sat under a large maple tree on the southern side of the house and was a favorite spot for both family and visitors. Shelling peas or beans and snapping string beans seem to be the only unpleasant tasks that I associate with the swing. Sometimes we made games of the tedious job. We forgot about the unpleasant work when we ate and enjoyed the dishes that Momma cooked.

     Momma’s sister, my Aunt Rite, and her family lived across the road from us—both houses with quarter mile lanes. She and her husband had two boys:Jack, the oldest a year my junior, but I never felt he was younger. The younger son, Richard, arrived in January after my fifth birthday—the first baby I remember seeing just after birth.I played with Jack at first one, and then the other house, once or more a week. Later Richard and Lou joined us in play.

     Daddy had an uncle, who lived in the large house back of Fitchett’s store, while he operated the store and acted as postmaster. His first granddaughters, Elizabeth and Frances, lived with their parents in his home. Elizabeth, a year older than me, and Frances, near Lou’s age, became our best friends. When we walked with Momma to the visit their mother and grandmother, we played with our girl friends. On the way home, we stopped at the combination store and post office to pick up the mail and a grocery item Momma needed.
Water surrounded three sides of their house with a large lawn overshadowing the beach several feet below. To reach the beach, we walked slowly downgrade toward the store, reaching the shoreline just beyond the building. Then we backtracked down to the private beach. We learned to skip shells in the water, and we played “Hide and Seek” among the cliff-like overhangs with low hollows carved into the banks, probably used as hide outs during the Civil War battles. After the steamship stopped delivering to Fitchett’s Wharf in 1933, we played on the wharf for a short distance. Neighborhood boys, who attended school with us, fished from the dock. Occasionally we just sat on the beach and chatted. On chilly days, we played on the large porch of the house or inside the house with many rooms. They visited us on special occasions when their mother brought them with her.

     I grieved when Elizabeth’s parents moved the family to Norfolk before I reached fifth grade. We had traveled to and from school together most of those years and felt we knew each other.

     We had mostly boys left in the neighborhood without our girl friends, but Elizabeth and I wrote to each other. We married near the same time, have children the same age and have kept in touch. Elizabeth befriended my son when he worked in Norfolk and lived near her and her family. I became a widow earlier than she did, but we have visited in recent years. Another friend drove me to her house last, but our friendship continues today—guess that is real friendship. More about summer vacations in the 1930’s next month. 

© 2003 Catherine C. Brooks All rights reserved. 
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