se portland gravel road

"A Summer Diary"

By Jeff Owenby

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 in through open windows and latched screen doors.

As kids, I think that we all lived for the hot days and blue skies. Given that the sun rose early and went down later in the evening, the days were joyously long, and the nights mercifully short. Outside, the sidewalks and gnarled pavement became ovens once the sun had microwaved them to foot-blistering temperatures. 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. It felt especially great when the lawn had just been wetted by the sprinkler, and your feet found pockets of cold water in sparse areas for added relief.

The slow grind of a push mower cutting grass could be heard from neighbors next door. In the air was a summer spice; a blend of dandelions, flowers, and the wild weeds that mom complained about so much. Birds and insects were chirping and buzzing, each providing their own orchestral movement to a symphony of blue skies and white popcorn puffs of clouds. My friends and I had played in the gravel. We rode our bikes quickly on the concrete, then head straight for the gravel for a good spin out. Occasionally, 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.

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 radios. Latched screen doors of neighbors' homes were the S.E. Portland version of air conditioning. However, they also provided views into the house. I can recall covering the sides of my face to block the sun, and pressing up to the dusty mesh to peer inside.

I can recall many summer evenings when all of us retired 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. Cantaloupe and watermelon were wonderful summer treats. Bigger rewards often came in the form of a Root Beer Float, a dish of Neapolitan ice cream, or a trip down the gravel road to Dairy Queen.

There were times when our parents were entertained by just watching us play. We were likewise entertained (and flattered) that they cared to watch us. As the sun began to dip, we'd play hide-and-seek until the very stroke of ten when most of us 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 on blankets which was an adventure in itself. At night I 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 night air 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. Many times I'd lie on the warm patio until my back or stomach began to sweat. Sitting up, I'd be plastered with tiny bits of gravel and patio dirt glued to my 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. I'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. Kids were everywhere, in and out, playing, shouting, and rallying others to join them.

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.