Going back home again.
Let's go back to the summer of 1964. Think of a perfect June morning. The skies are blue, and the sun is out. The day will easily top 90+ degrees.
When it was hot like that, you could actually smell the heat and dust. The sidewalks and gnarled pavement became ovens once the sun had microwaved them to foot-blistering temperatures. Even the toughest kids on the block winced when they walked about barefoot. Once the streets got that hot, you had to make a hasty dash into the relief of the cool grass. If the yard was lush, it was like cool velvet cushions; if it was yellow, it felt dry and needly, but it was still better than the street. It felt especially great when the lawn had just been sprinklered, and your feet would find pockets of cold water where grass dipped for added relief.
It was June of 1964, and I lived on a dirt road directly behind Barlow Elementary, the school I attended. I remember being enrapt in the ecstasy of summer vacation. The sun had already heated the concrete porch and steps. If I try hard enough, I can be there again. Two houses down I can hear the slow grind of a push mower cutting the grass. There's a smell of spice in the air-summer spice, a blend of dandelions, flowers, and the wild weeds that mom complains about so much. The music of birds and buzzing insects fills my ears.
My friends and I had been playing in the gravel. We rode our bikes quickly on the concrete, then head straight for the gravel for a good spin out.Dust clouds greeted our arrival. Ocassionally, one of us would fall just to impress the neighbor girls that sat in complete ignorance of us. It was fun to deliberately take a dive, even scrape the skin and draw blood to prove your valor. Many of us did it. What can I say? We were guys.
Once we realized that there was nowhere interesting to go, nowhere that we hadn't already seen, been to, or explored, we devised other plans. For those of us who didn't have any available dimes or nickels, pop and beer bottles could be easily found. We'd collect just enough to head to the corner store to cash them in for a great paper kite. The paper kites cost 15 cents apiece and the fancier plastic kites were a quarter. We used to make our own kites too which was almost as fun as the real thing. It was fun to watch them high up in the sky, hanging on air connected to the earth only by a light string and us as anchors. How powerful we felt that we could not only launch something so grand, but keep it in the air until we reeled it in.
Another great pastime was building our own street go karts out of any type of material available. Somebody's dad always had left over plywood, 2 x 4's, nails, coil, rope, lawnmower wheels, or whatever was needed. These machines did not want for missing parts! Creating, and tailoring these awesome street machines were far more fun than actually riding them. Somebody had to push, or you had to find a decent hill. These karts didn't do well in dirt, grass, or gravel, they needed smooth surfaces.
In time, once we'd exhausted everything else, new plans would need to be drawn. And what better place to do that than inside a homemade fort, or under the apple tree? The grass, shaded by the tree's hefty branches, was spotted with the greenies that had already fallen. Us guys used to sit under that tree, chomping on those retchedly sour things, thinking they were the best in town. Back then, there was this incredible sense of adventure everywhere. We had no dazzling, convenient technology at our fingertips like people and kids do now. What fun we had had to be worked for, earned, created, or imagined. That's why those green apples were so good; they were found, by us, by our own means. There was no feeling like it in the world, that sense of accomplishment and discovery when everything you knew or discovered outside of the classroom was by your own devices.
Yes, this was the divine world of the 60's; a time when it was slower, and easier, and a time when a person could catch their breath and be as free and creative as humanly possible. Kids were respectful to their elders (for the most part), and in that respect was a certain safety; a feeling that we didn't have to show how tough, or mouthy we could be in order to survive. We were directed, guided by parents and elders, and as much as we complained about chores and homework, life felt secure.
Front Porch Memories
As I was growing up in the 60's, summer was the mecca; the most cherished, revered season of all. School was out for 3 months. It was hot, sunny, and you could wear cut-offs and go shirtless. Better yet, people were out. They were in their yards, washing their cars, driving, mowing, chatting with neighbors. Fruit was sprouting from backyard trees. Ice cream was a food group unto its own.Music blasted from car radios,, or seeped through open windows and latched screen doors.
On any given day you could hear songs like the Beatles' "You Can't Do That", or Dusty Springfield's "Wishin' & Hopin'" sputtering out of transistor radios, or simple tabletop models. Latched screen doors of neighbors' homes were the S.E. Portland version of air conditioning. However, they also provided views into the house. Once I covered my eyes and pressed my face up to the dusty mesh, I could peer inside seeing if anyone was available to come out to play.
I can recall many summer evenings when all of us would retire to the front porch and yard. This was the social hub where friends, neighbors and family met and spent quality time after a hard day's work. It was something that we all looked forward to. Somebody always had more canteloupe or watermelon than they needed, and finding a sparkling Creme Soda or a cold Root Beer was not uncommon. We lived close to a Dairy Queen when it first came to our neighborhood in 1964. Nobody had even heard of a DQ before, so naturally the novelty was grand. The best treat we could have ever hoped for were soft ice cream cones. But this Dairy Queen? They had it all! They had soft chocolate, ice cream cones with chocolate, cherry, and butterscotch hard toppings, banana splits, and a wild innovation they called "Dilly Bars."
Isn't it amazing at what triggers a memory? A scent, a sound, a taste; Thinking of those banana splits, I can recall the taste of lemon topping as well as chocolate and strawberry. There was a time when I walked down the steep gravel hill and down to Powell Blvd. to the corner store called Food Fair. I picked up a peach from the outdoor market and bought it just because it smelled so good. To this day, the smell of fresh peaches takes me right back to that one day. Even the sights, sounds and flavors of that day are still alive.
Getting back to summer on the porch, there were times when our parents were entertained by just watching us play. And we were likewise entertained (and flattered) that they cared to watch us, to see which team could win at tug-of-war, or which guys could out-wrestle each other, or any other game that required skill or cunning.
Rewards often came in the form of a Root Beer Float, a dish of Neopolitan ice cream, or a trip down the gravel road to Dairy Queen. One extrememly warm evening, our neighbors and ourselves had a front yard picnic on blankets and gorged on McDonald's burgers and ice cream later. As the sun began to dip, we'd play hide-and-seek until the very stroke of ten when most were called back in. Night games were completely dependent on how long our parents wanted to stay out. So, the less distractions on our part, the better. It was best to let parents gab with each other so that they could not pay attention to the clock.
Often, we could sleep outside in blankets which was an adventure in itself. At night I would lay looking up at the stars waiting to see a flying saucer travel by. Conversations continued until people gradually started drifting off. The scent of fresh grass and summer breezes filled my nostrils and I can remember thinking that this was the way life should always be.
During the day if you felt like tanning on a neighboring patio, you had to hose it down first before you could lay on it. That dry, dusty smell of hot concrete when greeted by water was a familiar summer scent. You could lay on the warm patio until your back, or stomach began to sweat. Sitting up, you'd be plastered with tiny bits of gravel and patio dirt glued to your body by sweat. Moms served Kool-Aid in those tall narrow patio cups, the metal ones of different metal shades. Maybe it was grape Kool-Aid, or cherry, or raspberry. You'd take a good drink, then retire to the shade of a nearby tree, or perhaps on the side of the house where shade was plentiful.
Between breaks you could run back into the house for more Kool-Aid, just pull that forward handle on the old fridge, and take out the pitcher! It felt great. A basketball might hit the cyclone fencing, sending a rattling chime as the mesh shook from the force. Maybe somebody's big brother in his '63 Chevelle would be bad-assing down the road, or perhaps a distant radio pumped out sweet tunes.
My brother Kenny always had hot cars. I can remember the feel of the scorching car seats on my bare legs and the smell of the vinyl dashboard as it baked in the sun. He'd turn a round knob and within seconds something wonderful would bellow out from the dash.
"I break big rocks in the hot sun, I fought the law and the law won..."
"Long distance information give me Memphis, Tennessee..."
"Oh, Sweet Pea, won't you dance with me..."
"Green grass, by my window. Tells me that the wind blows..."
It didn't matter where we went, there was always a great song on the radio. And we had a great station: KISN. It was a wonderfully proud feeling to be in such a cool car with even cooler music pumping out its tinny speakers. My brother Kenny was one of the cool guys; he was tough, but had a great sense of humor and was generous. He had great cars and he had style. He muscled his cars, and had a slew of 'em in his time. It was great to listen to the radio in, and around his car. He'd take me for "spins" all the time to the store, the gas station, or to G.I. Joe's where I could get a new inner tube or tire for my bike. In fact, I mention on my Drive-In page about how he took me to the Foster Drive-In to see the Beatles' "Help" on the big screen. He was a big Elvis fan, and didn't like the Beatles at all, so that's a great memory for me. My Mom wouldn't give me permission to see the movie. Like James Bond, the previews showed too many girls in scant bikinis, and my mom was just sure that this wasn't suitable for me. Knowing this, Kenny sneaked me out and took me to see it. It was one of the best nights of my life.
If the action wasn't in Kenny's car, it would be in one of his friends, or a friend of a friend. Let's face it, I lived in a cool neighborhood, and our familly moved often, every year in fact, and every neighborhood we lived in was cool. So what does that say? It says that the 60's were cool, end of story! Another thing I used to love about the old radio stations was the fact that they would do dedications to your girlfriend, friend, or anybody. Being in the car was not like today at all; it was a culture, a way of life, something to look forward to. Dashboards didn't look like F-14 cockpits. They were simple and sweet, crowned with chrome and lined with style. The car was a home away from home. Cars were not the high-tech-don't-let-you-even-think-for-yourself vehicles that they are today. Cars simple and in a way, quite calming. They were roomy, flashy, people knew when you coming and vice-versa. The guys worked theirs until they sounded like war machines barreling down the road, and the joy of those vehicles was so far above anything on the market today that it makes me sad to think about them. Bench seats were great where your wife or girlfriend could slide over next to you while you drove. Bucket seats, a.k.a. "birth control seats" were stylish, but after a time, I longed for the old bench seats once again.
I think this is enough for now. I have so many hundreds of thousands of words to say, but the thoughts just aren't coming right now. Who knows, maybe I've said enough, or even too much. Anyway, I hope this takes a few people back home again.