I’ve had some very good years
“But now the days are short
I’m in the autumn of the year.” — Quoted material by Ervin Drake (a la Frank Sinatra).
I think it was easier being a kid when I was one.
Oh, there weren’t any hand-held computers we call cell phones or 200-plus-channel TV and “steaming” packages to entertain us, but neither were there any drugs or child predators or gangs or many other of the things which threaten kids today — at least not here, in the then wonderful little northern Coahoma County hamlet of my rearing.
And though it has only “officially” been summer for going on two weeks now, it seems oppressively hot, unusually hot to me — perhaps just one more aspect of the aging process — and on my ventures outside the air conditioning (hard to believe now I grew up in a neat ol’ house without it), I find myself thinking quite a bit about those now quite long ago days.
That, too, happens to a fellow, I am told, when he reaches what I’ve always thought to be the insultingly euphemistic “senior citizen” status.
Summertime. That meant no more riding the school bus that my neighbor lady drove or slipping off at recess to the cafeteria which my Aunt Lola ran, to sneak a snack for me and my more favored friends. Summertime meant freedom, which with apologies to the great Mr. Kristofferson, can sometimes mean more than nothing left to lose.
Summertime meant riding my bicycle almost literally anywhere I wanted to go — all over town, to the farm, where my grandmother always had some goodies for her boy and anyone who happened to be in his company. Summertime meant waiting anxiously for “The Sporting News” then the baseball Bible, to arrive, and with it, the fodder of dreams for the make-believe trades involving my favorite team.
Summertime meant not having to con that grandmother real hard into buying me that one more pack of baseball cards to swap with my friend Marshall Lau, an intra-country store exercise which somehow made those trades seem more real.
Summertime meant shooting turtles and snakes in Mill Creek from atop an old railroad trestle that was really unsafe for such, using a .22 rifle handed down from my Dad. A learning experience, that, one which provided valuable lessons in marksmanship and the dangers of making oneself an obvious target.
Summertime meant “watermelon cuts” in my grandparents’ back yard, affairs rendered so famously fun through word-of-mouth that after a while, folks came from near and far. My grandmother had a whole collection of “dime store” salt shakers (not her good ones, mind you) for that very occasion, and she saved copies of The Clarksdale Press Register and The Commercial Appeal, off which everyone knew was the only proper way to consume watermelon, for weeks ahead of time. The good folks at City Grocery here chilled our melons in their coolers for several days and we retrieved them on the mornings of the “cuttins.”
The idea of community just meant more then, I think.
We had a real baseball team, the Coahoma Red Panthers. The old Chickasaw word after which the town was named means that very thing, and we had t-shirts and caps that matched and enough kids to play — and by gump, that made us a team by anybody’s standards.
We cleared, dragged and lined-off our own field, on some really bad buckshot ground that Harry Graham donated to the cause every year, and while there was no formal league structure, we played other teams from Jonestown, Friars Point, Lula, Dubbs, Sledge, even Marks and Tunica.
From that experience sprang another of life’s intrinsic truths for a young man: A hard-hit ground ball can take some mighty wicked hops if it happens to strike a buckshot clod. Being ready for bad hops is not the worst approach one can take to life.
Summertime meant dewberries in Pet milk with a sprinkle of sugar for breakfast and soft ice cream from Hirsberg’s little bit of everything drug store and Sunday afternoon watching the Cardinals on TV with my Dad. Harry Carey was their announcer then, and I came to do a fair impression of him which made Dad laugh. To do it right, you had to look stupid and let your tongue hang out of your mouth, but that was small price to pay in order to hear Dad say, “that’s all right, son. That’s pretty good.”
Fact is, summertime meant not having to care about much, and that sort of comes back to that whole freedom thing, and I think it not insignificant, that as I recount all of this, I do so with a smile.
I think being a kid was more fun when I was one.
“And now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear.”
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.