“In the Good Old Summer Time” shares nostalgic space with another old, familiar tune of the season: “Summer time and the livin’ is easy.” Summertime for the Longenecker family may not have been easy in the 1950s what with tomato field hoeing, canning, freezing vegetables from the garden, but it was simple.
This is a pict-o-logue of summertime for me from 13 months to about age 13.
“Naked in a tub” would be a sensational caption for this photo were it not for the fact that I’m only 13 months old. Later I recognize that this glistening galvanized tub is also used for blanching sweet corn ears from the garden lot.
Reminiscent of Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe (yes, it’s a stretch) but in a far simpler, Mennonite style, the Metzlers on Mother’s side of the family gather for a Sunday summer picnic In Uncle Clyde’s meadow, large crates holding up the table. After dinner the children scatter, the women clean up, and the men take down the table. I won’t be surprised when one or two of my uncles might light up a cigar rolled from home-grown tobacco.
Uncle Leroy and Aunt Clara’s farm is the perfect place for a summer Sunday dinner on the lawn. Hefty barrels hold up this groaning board as we pass around the seven sweets and seven sours, every family bringing a dish to another Metzler reunion.
I also have a turn visiting Uncle Frank Martin’s household, one of Grandma Longenecker’s younger brothers. Aunt Mattie braids my pig-tails every morning as I sit in her kitchen looking up at the tall ceilings. She plaits very slowly because she doesn’t have much experience with little-girl hair. Her girls, Joyce and Janet, are not plain and have naturally curly hair that hangs free. They both wear shoes with open toes, a detail not lost on me. Cousin Sammy likes to tease me, but his sister Janet takes me on walks around the block because their house is in town, Middletown, Pennsylvania, my first taste of life outside of the country.
After I reach school-age, summer is a time for the cousin exchange. My favorite summer visits are with Cousin Janet, of all the Metzler cousins the one closest in age to me. I am fascinated with her strawberry blond hair and lighter skin. All of my family have an olive complexion, dark hair. We play with fat, sticky strands of Cinderella hair on our dolls and make up stories upstairs in the small bedroom. Soon Mom will call us down to the kitchen for root-beer floats sipped with plastic straws probably saved from last summer.
The next time I go to Janet’s house for a week in summer, I fall off my bicycle onto the gravel, grinding sharp bits into the skin around my kneecap. Though the bruise starts to recover, I don’t bounce back from the tumble. In the day or two following, I have crying spells, so Aunt Jenny calls my parents. When they pick me up, I feel both embarrassed and relieved.
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Tell us your summer vacation memories. We’re all ears.