Our society is built around our school systems in large part because that’s when our children are freed up from a daily school schedule. For working parents this time can be a nightmare because it means kids are unsupervised at home. If your family situation allows one parent to be home with the kids, the burden of knowing what we should do passes to that stay-at-home parent. I know there were times when my mother would have done any job if it only meant she could have a break from her kids. And back then, you just weren’t dealing with your own children, you were dealing with their friends as well.
As a child growing up in the 1960’s summer vacation was a joyous time. My hometown was Logan, Utah and back then even Logan was small enough that my parents never had to worry about us entertaining ourselves. There were so many things for a kid to do, and if you had an imagination the opportunities doubled. The most important things for our little crew to have was a little change in our pocket for candy and a Shasta cream soda at the Island Market, a pocketknife, and a length of rope. The stick would be added once we determined which direction we were headed. We spent a lot of time in Logan’s Central Park, now known as Merlin Olson Central Park. It was a huge park with a creek running through it, baseball diamonds, swings, slides, and it even had a barf wagon. The test of proving your toughness was being subjected to the older kids spinning the barf wagon as fast as they could and the riders surviving the experience without losing their lunch.
Some days we would venture into the forest. The forest, as it was known back then, was a multi-acre dreamland which included about 60 fully grown pine trees, a big, abandoned house and all the spooky stories that went along with it. I think I was in the forest when as a six-year-old I smoked my first, and last, cigarette. One of our friends had stolen a pack from his parents so we could prove how grown up we were. We quickly learned that penny candy was a lot better tasting, and we didn’t have to risk being caught with a pack of smokes. The old house was demolished decades ago and there are now about 15 homes where our neighborhood forest used to be.
Another favorite place for us to get into mischief was on the hill below the Logan Temple and the Utah State Campus. An irrigation canal traversed the hill and made for some good times. Though we never had a gang problem like you would find in an inner city, we did have to deal with the risk of venturing into the turf of another group of kids. Along with a good hiking trail, there was a cool rope swing that would test our bravery, or so we thought. It was, however, in another pack of kids territory so we either had to avoid being seen or simply act as if we were cool enough to be venturing into their turf.
Oddly enough, having lived in the most gang riddled neighborhoods of Los Angeles, the only place I have ever been roughed up was walking through Central Park on our way to Boy Scouts. Three older kids were also passing through what we considered to be our turf, but their size and number gave them the advantage. I was proud of my brother Alan, who was 13 at the time. He picked out the biggest kid that was hassling us and punched him right in the mouth. Unfortunately, it was winter and his thick winter gloves cushioned the blow and no real damage was done. It did send the intended message, which was we’re willing to fight, and the older kids went their own way.
At ten-years-old we had gained enough confidence to begin exploring the caves that ran along the base of the mountains east of Logan. This was enough of a hike that we needed to be well prepared. Our father had acquired a bunch of army surplus gear so we simply rummaged through it until we felt we could survive all day. The caves, as we would call them, were abandoned mine shafts and weren’t a safe place for kids to play. Nevertheless, we would hike the four miles to the caves, eat our lunch, and then go out in search of more caves. For food we would put a can of chicken noodle soup we had snuck out of our mother’s kitchen on a fire to warm it up and then eat it right out of the can. This proved tricky the first time because nobody thought to bring a can opener. A day of exploration would quickly come to an end when the sun ducked below the Wellsville Mountains.
At that point it was time to get moving so we could be in the neighborhood by the time our mother would step out onto the back porch and yell, “Time to come home”. The next day might include tubing down the irrigation canal or building a tree house. By the end of the summer we would have completed many great adventures and were ready to go back to school to compare notes with our friends about who had the best summer. The last hurrah of the summer in our family included a day at Lagoon and a new pair of boots and jeans. Enjoy your summer, kids.