Oliver: Long days of summer were anything but lazy back in the day

Joan Oliver[]

The flip of the switch that brought summerlike weather as the calendar turned to June was a welcome one. Although summer technically doesn’t start until later this month, all the signs point to the favorite season for a lot of us.

When everything is green and the days seem filled with promise, my thoughts always turn to my childhood summers outside McHenry. Wistfully, of course, since it’s been a long time since I had that much unstructured free time.

Oh, sure, back then there were chores to do. Mom would require help with her huge vegetable garden. That meant at least one interminably long row to hoe each day. Kids that my younger brother and I were, we’d often turn it into a race to see who could get done first. That wasn’t always the best idea for those growing plants, but we buried the evidence as best we could.

Dad, on the other hand, wanted help with the lawn. Since I was a better driver (or at least could control the desire to pop wheelies on the riding mower), I wound up with front yard duty. Then we’d have to rake up the grass clippings. That led to more races. Gee, I wonder where I got a competitive streak?

Once the chores were done, we’d have the day to ourselves. As long as we were within shouting distance of home, we really didn’t have too many rules. Stay out of trouble was the big one. And if we wanted to ride our bikes farther than my mother’s Tarzan yell would travel, well, we just needed to let her know where we’d be.

That meant we were free to climb the fruit trees on our property, explore the raspberry bushes that grew wild on the lot line between our house and the cornfield behind us and our uncle’s house next door, or travel down the road to our friend Eric’s house, which was a wonderland of cool stuff we didn’t have at home.

There we could ride a dirt bike around the property. Or better yet, we three could pile on his golf cart and tool around the neighborhood. Man, the miles we must have put on that thing as we rode around aimlessly for hours. We’d shoot BB guns at tin cans and climb into the hayloft of the barn to make it a fort.

Then there was the pond of a friend of Eric’s family that wasn’t too far from us, either. We’d make a day of it, catching too many bluegill to count and sometimes proudly bringing fish home for our mother to cook. Also nearby was a creek where we’d go to stalk the resident crayfish, which were endlessly fascinating.

The list of activities went on and on and on. I also found time to read stacks upon stacks of books that had nothing to do with school. All that reading no doubt kept my brain sharp for the coming school year. That, and being curious about everything.

Ah, summer. Nowadays my schedule is jam-packed with working and caregiving and adult responsibilities.

But the summer is still young. Maybe it’s time to schedule in some fun.
Once the chores are done, of course.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at