Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer Heat as Kids

It’s summer heat today.  Numbers don’t do it justice. It’s hot.  Like butter sizzling on a frying pan hot. Not normally what you’d get in rain city, Vancouver.  But this year’s been different, more rain in winter, more drought in summer.
Winnipeg was like this  when I was a child.  We’d play outside in the morning and evening.  Afternoon was the time to be inside.  Like Mediterranean countries where siestas are the heat solution.  We were caramel brown little boys by the middle of summer.  We didn’t wear shoes priding ourselves on toughening up our feet after a winter of  galoshes and snowboots.  Later we’d have canoe shoes, leather low lying moccasins.  There all had running shoes too. But mostly we’d run around barefoot and pride ourselves on being able to walk down the gravel back lane without wincing.
The sounds outside were of birds and grasshoppers.  The only music we'd hear outdoors was some kid practicing his guitar or trumpet. You could hear the wind in the leaves.
I remember standing with my friends on mornings on those hot summer Winnipeg days.
“What do you want to do?"
“I don’t know."
There were three of us.  We stood around in the back lane kicking things or chucking stones.
“What are we going to do."
“I don’t know."
When the older girls joined us we’d play hide and seek. Sometimes they’d include us in their plays.  We couldn’t ask our parents what to do because they’d just give us chores.
“it’s going to be hot."
"What do you want to do?"
“I don’t know."
“We could look for golf balls along the dike."
“I don’t want to do that."
“What do you want to do."
“Maybe hit some balls at the school."
“Yea that’s a good idea."
“What about going down by the river."
“I say we hit balls."
We all had big leather baseball gloves.  They were a thing of pride.   Bats too. And balls. We’d just have to go to our houses and get our stuff and then meet up again. Then we’d walk the block to the school yard.  In the summer no one was ever there.  Someone would bat.  Someone would throw. And someone would stand in the outfield.
Kirkie was the darkest tanning kid.  Garth was the smartest.  Then there was me.  I don’t know what I was.  We weren’t self reflective as young guys.  We just did things.  Didn’t think about them much.  Like climbing the tree on the way to play ball.  It was just something we did.  I once fell out of that tree and got really winded. But we’d climb it because it was there. Out behind Garth’s house.
Then we’d continue on to the school yard.  It was a big deal to haul our mits and the ball and bat that suburban city block to the school.  It was a plan. It was a expedition.  We figured everyone was watching us out their windows. And mostly they were.  We’d play ball for a while. Never very long. Then we’d sit in the shade and chew on grass.  It was hot in Winnipeg in the summer. Prairie hot.  At least in the heat the mosquitoes weren’t out.  Horseflies were.  They’d bite a big chunk out of you but swatting them and squishing them was satisfying. They weren’t as fast as house flies.  We’d run from the wasps.  Wasps were the worst in the summer heat.
“I want to hit the ball."
“You were hitter last time."
“No I wasn’t."
“Yes you were."
“No I wasn’t."
We’d decide things with the toss of a coin. Somebody had a penny or a nickel.  As kids we never ever had any paper money.  A quarter was a whole lot.  Even a dime was a lot.  But we’d use our coin to decide who was going to be the batter.  With only three of us we didn’t have a catcher. The batter when he missed went after the ball that would have bounced off the back fence. That fence was the reason we liked to go to the school to play ball. Then there wasn’t anything the ball could hit when the bat connected with it.  It just flew out into the field and if it went far enough the guy not pitching would run after it.
After we’d hit the ball around for a bit and everyone took a turn we’d walk all the way home.
We’d disperse then.  Each going to their house.  Our mothers would have white bread sandwiches with cheese slices or maybe tuna and mayonnaise. We drank milk back then.  When we came in from playing baseball, a mother would make us lunch.  We knew what each other ate because we’d sometimes go for lunch at the other kids place if our mother was out or the mother invited us in. The mothers would phone then and tell each other if they were having one of the guys over.  We had to wash our hands in each others house.  We’d lie around in each others place reading the other guys comic books then.  Kirk’s mother made the best bread.  Garth’s mother sometimes had cheese whiz.  Cheese whiz was really great back then, when it first came out. My mom had the big garden so we’d get carrots or radishes with our sandwiches.
Every kids mother had milk. There was always fresh milk in the refrigerators. The milk truck came each day and left glass bottles  full of milk and picked up the empty bottles.  Our dads had made special shutes with doors like cat entrances where the milk could be left because the milk truck came round really early.
After lunch we’d usually go back to our own houses. We were too old to nap but afternoon in the heat of the day we just sort of lay around.  Comics were good then. I liked the superhero ones  but later I’d get really interested in the history comic books. You could read the same comic book over and over again because there was so much in the pictures you didn’t see the first time or two. I got into reading real books really early and loved reading inside in the cool when it was so hot outside no one was going to want to play.
When the heat of the day passed we’d kind of run into each other out in the back lane again.  If the older guys and older girls were around they’d plan games like hide and seek and tag or stuff and let us little kids play with them.  They were always a whole lot smarter than we were and more fun and their games were the best.  But when we were alone, just the three of us, we had pretty good times. We’d talk about them later.  In the afternoon we really liked walking along the river trails. And biking, we biked every where.
But when it was really hot, we didn’t do much at all.  We were just three guys who hung out then.  Down by the river we’d watch the boats and birds and talk about fishing or tell jokes and laugh about something we remembered from school.    It was just so hot somedays back then.
The heat today in Vancouver reminded me of that.  I remember my dad telling me about the northern Manitoba summer heat and droughts he’d been in as a kid.  I remember grand dad too talking about how the heat affected the farming and having to make sure the cattle had water.   Dad was working on the farm from the time he was six. Not like us kids walking around the neighbourhood all summer with nothing to do except trying to keep out of the way of grown ups.

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