Friday, July 31, 2009

Sweet Summertime

Living in a neat and tidy trailer court in San Jose, my birthplace, was a hot spot to live in summer. Baking hot. No air conditioning, but mom would make homemade popsicles and occasionally we could buy a cold treat from the ice cream truck enticing us.

Mom gave me the green Bauer pitcher which always had a continual supply of iced tea in it. She bought it when I was born and used it for at least 30 years before passing it on.

One summer dad got a wild hair and decided that mom and the 2 older girls needed to hire out picking prunes. If dad said it, we did it! I was too young to work, but remember how miserable we all were. Watching them climb up and down the ladders, picking, filling, dumping over and over all day long in the scorching, unrelenting sun was almost as bad as doing it. Coolers, ice packs and water bottles weren't around then, or we just didn't have any because we were too poor. I don't know if they stuck it out for the entire harvest or not, but we all whined and complained, possibly silently, but loudly in our heads! If I see one of those big purple prunes in the produce section of a store I feel itchy, hot and thirsty and feel so sorry for the pickers.

When we moved to Glenwood, my little friend Julie would arrive to play with frozen strawberries in the little rectangle can. They were a treat that I had never experienced before. We would head to the hammock slung between the acacia trees, swing, sweat and eat the dripping sugared mess with our fingers. Sublime.

Blue belly lizards were out in force during the summer. It seemed like what they mostly did was sunbathe on rocks. Catching them was an exacting sport for they would lose their tail if you caught them by it. I think most of the lizards around our place had stubs, as we never tired of trying to capture them, hoping to turn them into pets.

When we had chickens, my older sister Marsha showed me how to go out into the coop at night with a worm tied on string. All the chickens would be roosting quietly until we flipped on the light, tempting them to see and swallow the worm then lead them around while they gagged. Why this cruel thing was entertaining, I'll never know.

When we lived in Glenwood, most of the day we spent roaming the hills. Some of every day was spent in the creek frog hunting and catching crawdads. They were hard to catch trophies.

Salting banana slugs in the summer was a sick, perverse pleasure. We hated them!

Grandpa Jose had a summertime problem. He puttered outside during the summer, fixing fences, exercising the horses, etc. When it was hot, he would get this film of white spittle around the corners of his mouth. I would be so distracted by it and could hardly keep from wiping it off. When it got too bad, I would remind him he needed to 'get' it. He would take his sweat streaked panama hat's brim and swipe it away, relieving my mind.

He also had a sheepskin coat that he always had close by, summer or winter. He was like a lizard, loved the heat and kept his woolen underwear on all year long under his clothes. When we would go somewhere in our topless yellow International Scout, oftentimes coming home in the evening the fog would roll in, changing the heat to coolness. He would take off his warm coat and wrap me up, tucking me down all cozy beside him.

Grandma used a wringer washer. The clothes got hung out on the line to dry. In the summer the towels would dry stiff as boards with baked in wrinkles, a crunchy feel and a cooked in fragrance. They were hard to fold and about scraped your tender skin right off. I have never since then used such thirsty towels as those!

Grandpa's job was to keep the water tower filled. It was wooden, high above the house and stored hundreds of gallons of water. He would turn the pump for the well on, pumping water into the tower which would then be gravity fed when needed. Invariably he would forget it was on and the house, porch and yard would flood, wasting our most prized commodity! Grandma would be furious at the waste and the extra work the mess made. When it happened in the summer, it could be disastrous, as the well could run dry and we would be without until it refilled.

Summer made the poison oak bushes deadly. In our ramblings, we knew to stay away from it and the stinging nettles, but it was impossible to be completely free of it. Someone usually had an itchy rash somewhere. Mom was the one who suffered most. If it was on our clothes, she would get it from handling them and she was highly allergic to it. Grandpa, who never ever
got it, convinced her to take some poison oak oil, a little every day to build up an immunity to it. She trustingly did just that and got an almost deadly case of poison oak, inside and out. She was in agony, eyes swollen shut and itchy running blisters all over her body. Where was the Benedryl then? Calamine lotion was the only remedy available to her. She was miserable for a long time.

When we moved to Idaho, dad needed us as field hands. My sisters had to go out early in the morning to irrigate the fields, then go back out to shut the water down in the evening. Marsha and mom milked Dolly our cow. All of us helped bottle feed the calves. We had a huge mean sow that wanted to kill dad anytime he was close. He could climb the fence in a wink to escape her wrath. Then he would get a board and clobber her. Is that why she hated him? We had all the meat, milk, cream and eggs we could use.

One of the best things during the farm days was finding kitties hidden in the haystacks. One time we were traumatized by a batch that somehow were full of maggots, being eaten from the inside out. Dad had to put them down. I cried and cried and had nightmares for days.

We helped plant by sitting on the bean seeder making sure the containers kept filled. I drove the big truck for dad when he was haying. I couldn't reach the clutch, brake or accelerator without standing up. The steering wheel was as big as a hula hoop. He would put it in the lowest gear for me then I would steer it down the rows of bales while he effortlessly used his hay hooks to grab a bale and throw it on the low trailer. They had to be stacked in an herringbone design in order to stay steady as the rows grew high.

Craig has a memory of being so small driving a big field truck that while Miles steered, he managed the gas pedal sitting on the floor! Uncle Cliff needed help, but it took two of them to accomplish it. They were scared spitless! :)

During potato harvest we would stand on the digger and throw off rocks, dirt clods or rotten potatoes as they came up on the belts. Sometimes we would put a potato on this certain spot on the engine. It would be perfectly baked by lunch. After a hot 12 hour day we would head off to the hot springs to clean up and get refreshed.

Southern Idaho is watered by irrigation that comes from the Snake River. Canals carrying all the water weave in and out through all the farms. The water wasn't clean, but it was cool! We swam and tubed the canals as often as possible. We should have taken a shower afterwards, but never even considered it. Some friends of ours had the best and widest main canal running through their property. Rapids, a little island and a great picnic area and launch place made it our favorite. They had a daughter with cerebral palsy named Karleena. She was the life of the party even though it was torture for her to speak and her spasms were uncontrollable. She wanted to do everything we did, so when we swam in the canal or tubed, her wheelchair would be tied onto a tube and we'd push her off. How she managed to not tip over is still a mystery, never to be solved. She would thrash and squeal delightedly until someone caught her.

During the summer we also spent hours and hours riding our bikes. Miles upon miles. The roads were laid out in square mile grids. When we had explored the Northeast corner as far as we could, we'd start the Northwest, etc. One of our favorite haunts was the bird farm. These people raised exotic birds, pheasants and such and they didn't mind people coming to admire through the wire. We would take a simple lunch and have a look see, then have a picnic under the shade before heading back home.

In highschool, the way most of us made extra money during the summer was picking worms. It took sheer determination to do it. We all had these long metal rods with wooden handles linked together with extension cords about 3 feet apart, which needed plugged in to electricity. The 'high rollers', or serious pickers who literally made a living from it, had little generators that gave them freedom to pick anywhere. We would go out at night with flashlights, stick our prods in the ground and wait for the nightcrawlers to come skittling up from the ground in shock! When they were about half way out, you'd grab them, hoping they wouldn't break in half. It felt disgusting and was backbreaking. We did it because in about 2 hours we could make about 50 to 60 dollars. We'd take them the next morning to a guy who bought them. They needed to be alive and properly stored over night, i.e. healthy. I dreaded the picking, but loved the money he gave us before putting them in the fridge. Cartons and cartons of worms in refrigerators. He shipped them all over for fishermen to buy.

When we moved into town, most afternoons included a chocolate coke from the drive in, while most evenings were spent on someone's porch drinking iced tea, talking and listening to music and just lingering.

Hard work, play hard, rest easy. Summertime was sweet.

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