Saturday, August 25, 2007

Summer Afternoon In The City

Summer Afternoon In The City
8.5" x 11"
Summer is about over, with school starting here Monday. And, the weather man on tv last night said that signs of the approach of fall are showing up from the far north in the way of cooler temperatures. Many of us are so connected with school that seasons go by the school year schedule, rather than what is going on with the calendar or the solar system. Fall begins when school starts, summer begins when school is out. Didn't the summer just fly by this year!
I thought I would add a drawing today about spending summer in the city with one pair of grandparents. My sister and I would each go for a week, separately. We couldn't go together because we argued and fought too much.
After World War II, my grandparents, and their daughter and her new husband, moved from a small apartment in Victory Village where workers in the aircraft plant and Air Force personnel lived with their families. As soon as houses in the new additions were available, people flocked to the little houses, all in a row. My grandparents bought their house, and my aunt and uncle bought a house just around the corner and down a couple of blocks. So, they were close.
Some people planted small new trees, and plants in their yards, but there wasn't much to provide shade in the hot summer. And there were no fans or air conditioning in most houses. My aunt and uncle did have a water fan, and a small table fan, but my grandparents didn't. Grandma chose to have her entire back yard planted as a vegetable garden, with a small space to walk around the edges. So there was no shade there, and no place to play, either. We could follow her around as she worked in the garden, and look for bugs. But, that was about all there was to do in the yard.
I could sit on the porch and wait for a car to go by. An ice cream truck came in the afternoon, and sometimes I was given a nickle to buy a treat, if I had been good. Usually, though, I just had to watch that truck drive on down the street. I was hot, uncomfortable, bored, wanted to be at home, so I whined, and cried, fussed and pouted for a lot of the time I was there. Grandma's switch, though, put a sting on my legs and an end to my complaints, for a while. I just pouted in silence and was anxious to go home.
The days went like this. Grandpa got up early, before the sun came up, and cooked a big breakfast and baked. He might turn on the radio to listen to the farm news or "The Breakfast Club" from Dallas, while he ate breakfast. Grandma dressed in her long sleeved dress, and spent a long time brushing her hip length hair, then braiding it and putting it up on her head. Then she went out in the yard and chopped whatever needed chopping. She might pick some tomatoes, or dig some potatoes, whatever she wanted to pick for dinner or for the rest of the day. When it got too hot to work in the yard, she came in, ate something and drank some coffee, then washed out clothes in the kitchen sink or bathtub (not many people had washing machines), and Grandpa hung them outside on the clothesline while Grandma started cooking dinner.
I got up, had some cereal, or just looked at whatever Grandpa had cooked. I was a very picky eater, and especially didn't like eating away from home. All I liked to eat was cereal, fruit, and milk for meals. I could be coaxed to eat desserts, but, with sugar rationing, we were used to missing out on sweet treats.
I would dress and sit in the living room for a while, then go out on the porch, which was on the west side. It was cool there in the morning. Or I would follow Grandma around in the garden on the east side of the house for a little while. Then, I would make up my bed and stare at the next house from the window. Then I would move back to the living room and sit on the floor a while. There was an old set of dominoes that were missing a few dominoes, and I would stack them up and build buildings with those, then knock them down and start again.
Grandma's living room suite only made the house hotter. It was bulky, overstuffed, and covered with fabric that was scratchy, like wool, to me. And, it was a color that seemed hot pink and bright red combined. I chose to sit on the hardwood floor, which was a bit cooler and didn't make me itch.
At dinner time at 12 noon, we would sit in silence. I drank my milk and waited until I was dismissed from the table. They didnt' talk, didn't turn on the radio, just went about whatever they were doing in silence. Dinner might consist of iced tea, (milk for me) "light" bread, sliced tomatoes, fried potatoes, fried okra, creamed or corn on the cob, beans or peas, fried round steak with gravy, or liver and onions, or macaroni with canned tomatoes, fried chicken with pan gravy, plain roast on Sunday. And Grandpa might bake rolls, or a pie or cake. They didn't have salad as we have today. I never heard of salad until I was in high school, and, then, it was either fruit salad, or a congealed salad with fruit in it. The first time I saw a salad was when I was in college and I was eating in a restaurant. Usually, orders were served with a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato, and a sprig of parsley, so there was no need to order a bowl with lettuce and tomatoes. But, people just ate the things separately, at home.
By this time of day, it was getting really hot. We hoped for a breeze through the open windows. Usually, there was no breeze at all and the heat was suffocating. Grandma washed and put away dishes, turned on her soap opera on the radio, then retired to her bedroom with Grandpa. They had metal twin beds, that they had used in the one bedroom apartment. The beds were on opposite sides of the room, with a night table in between. The table only held a jar of Vicks or Mentholatum, the wind up alarm clock with a face that glowed in the dark, and a flashlight.
Grandma sat on her bed, facing Grandpa, just looking at the floor. Grandpa sat on his bed, facing Grandma, and also stared at the floor. They usually didn't lay down, but spent the afternoon in this hot room on the west side of the house, just sitting and sweating. Grandma had her spit can on the floor by her bed. She did take a dip of snuff, which seemed really disgusting, to me.
They didn't seem to care what I did, just as long as I was quiet and didn't bother anyone. I tip- toed back and forth from the second bedroom, where I was staying, to the living room, to the bathroom, and back. There were no books or magazines to read as I did at home when I stayed with great-aunts, and it was their bath and nap time.
Finally, Grandma pulled a package of playing cards from a drawer and gave them to me. I didn't know what to do with them, but to build houses, which kept falling down. So, she showed me how to play Solitaire, one afternoon. Well, I didn't like numbers or math, so I really didn't want to do that. But, in desperation, I finally started playing, just to pass the time. But, all the while, I was thinking of what I could be doing at home. Wishing I had a friend there, or, better still, a boyfriend there, could go to the movies with someone, to a park, or even down the street to where there was a stable with horses that people could pay to ride. There were so many things to do there, and it was rare that we got to do any of them.
As the afternoon wore on, I started looking for that ice cream truck, and hoping I could get a nickle for a small ice cream cone. If I got the money, I would sit on the back steps, in the shade of the house, and try to make the ice cream last as long as possible. In late afternoon, Grandma would check her garden, pick something, if needed, and start a little supper. That might be something like milk toast, cereal, or left overs. Sandwiches were not a meal, but were considered a snack or party refreshments.
After dishes were washed and put away, kitchen and bathroom floors mopped, everyone dressed for bed, and my grandparents went back to sit on their beds for a while, then lights were turned out and they went to sleep. I sat on my bed, looking out the windows, until a cool early morning breeze came through the windows. I rolled around on the bed, thinking of someday. Wishing that someday would hurry up and come. Someday, life would be full and fun, and I would have a fan or air conditioning in the summer. Someday, I would not be like my grandparents. I thought that they were living boring and lonely lives. How could they stand to live like they did. Someday, I would have someone to love,and we would talk and enjoy life. Dreams of youth.
My grandparents didn't have a car, but depended on their daughter or son-in-law to take them shopping and to places they needed to go. There were buses in the city that could have taken us somewhere, I thought. In later years, my aunt introduced me to a girl my age, and we would meet at the movies, or she would come over, or I might just talk to her on the phone. That helped to improve my visits to the city.
Occasionally, Grandma would take me for a walk along the street and back up the next street. She usually stopped to get a switch and would pop my legs with it when I started lagging behind or whining. She did tell me how to pick out a stick that was good to use for a toothbrush and about using cobwebs to stop bleeding. She told that her father had been a "hillbilly doctor" in Tennessee and she served as his nurse, as she grew up.
I thought, "Why not just go to the store and buy a toothbrush and toothpaste, and why not just go to the doctor if needed?"
She probably talked of other things, but I didn't pay attention. I was thinking of home, my friends, my pets, my toys, and things I would like to do and the way I wanted things to be someday. I should have listened and encouraged her to tell her stories.
It was boring to just walk down those streets with rows of houses, almost all alike. I wanted to go to the end of the street and, at least, spend time looking at the horses at the stable and the pasture where they let people ride. I know that I got to ride them about 3 or 4 times, usually if Daddy was there, and he had allowed enough time for a ride. Sometimes, Daddy would take us to the park and we got to ride the little train, go to the zoo, and ride the carnival type rides there. They had the most wonderful little train with a steam engine to pull it. We had gone to the botanical gardens and concerts under the stars, when my aunt and uncle were dating. And my aunt had taken us downtown into the city to go to the big department stores. Another time, we went inside a large Catholic Church to look at the organ. My dad liked to take us to the Fat Stock Show and my mother liked for us to go to the Ice Capades. But, those times were rare.
While I didn't do a lot, I did learn some things during these visits. Besides learning to play (and dislike) cards, I learned to be quiet, patient, and to deal with things like heat and boredom. Today, I could spend the time writing, painting, drawing, but I didn't have access to those materials at that time. My drawing was usually in school , when I was supposed to be doing school work.
In my drawing above, "Summer Afternoon In The City", I have shown my grandparents as they spent the afternoon, in their bed room, and me, playing solitaire on the bed in the guest bedroom. Through the windows, you can see the new house across the street from my grandparents' bedroom on the west side, and the new neighboring house on the south side behind me. There was actually a little hall where the bedroom doors faced. I used a bit of artistic license with this, in order to show what we were doing.
I hope that you have made some good memories this summer, and that my drawing will remind you of some summer memories of your own.

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