Summer vacation nostalgia

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.” — Marcel Proust

Now that summer is here, thoughts turn to the challenge of entertaining the kids through August. How do we keep ’em out of trouble while the rest of the world goes about its business-as-usual?

When I was a kid, there weren’t many day camps or summer-enrichment programs beyond the local “parks and rec” craft sessions. (How many lanyard key chains and Popsicle-stick cabins could you make in one summer?) My mother worked at home as a color artist for a photography studio, but her deadlines were non-negotiable.

My job was to keep myself busy. “Just stay out of my hair,” is how Mom put it.

In those days, I got to know my back yard like the back of my hand, hanging from an apple tree or hanging out with a small troop of neighborhood kids. If we got bored, we’d ride our bikes to the park across the street and hope to catch an ice cream truck en route. Few of us were the same age — but that didn’t seem to matter. The older kids looked after the younger ones, and everybody had a role or a position to play.

Best of all, the previous owner of my childhood home had left a wooden playhouse in the back yard. Replete with a linoleum floor, glass windows, and room enough for a table and chairs, the small house was the nucleus of our summer games. After reading Pippi Longstocking, I dubbed the playhouse Villa Villekulla and pretended I had a pet monkey like Pippi’s Mr. Nilsson. In other incarnations, my own Villa Villekulla served as headquarters for covert CIA operations, a storage unit for Barbie and Ken dolls, and a private reading room. Yes, a reading room.

An only child, I relished my quiet time as much as I enjoyed playing spy games and flashlight tag with neighborhood pals. I collected twice as many books as Barbie clothes and baseball cards.

Remember when we could order paperback books in grade school? I’d load up on enough of those paperbacks to feed my imagination all summer. As soon as she discovered that reading kept me out of her hair — for hours — my mother supplied me with all the books from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series. I gobbled them like buttered popcorn and wanted more.

Everything about summer, in short, was fuel for my fantasies. And while I enjoyed our annual family vacations in August, my unstructured summer weeks fed my creativity, encouraged my independence, and gave me time to explore the natural world I grew to love.

How about you? What did you enjoy most about your summer vacations? What childhood books do you remember? — Cindy La Ferle

17 thoughts on “Summer vacation nostalgia

  1. I remember playing with kids in the neighborhood regardless of anyone’s age. Books, wow Cindy, I was a library patron. First book that I can remember “Catnip Man”. My local library was a long walk or nice bike ride away. Yes, we had to be quiet, but librarians took the time to introduce us to not only age appropriate books but challenging ones as well. I still remember the thrill when I was told to go to the “older” kids books. My reading journey began that to this day brings me much comfort, knowledge and wonder.

  2. I, too, remember playing with kids of various ages. You kind of settled into an hierarchy that way. I always seemed to fall on the younger side! We used to play “Gestapo” outdoors, after dinner, until dusk.(For some reason the game was popular with the Jewish kids in the neighborhood.) It was a most mysterious, and thrilling, game! Hide ‘n seek with a bit of espionage thrown in.

  3. Wow, Cindy, your essay brought back some summer great memories! Like Good Humor ice cream, kids of all ages playing flashlight tag, playing Monopoly in the garage on a rainy day and looking for neighborhood mysteries and clues – yes, all thanks to Nancy Drew!

  4. I too remember playing outside for hours! I was the oldest of six, we would rally the rest of the kids for a neighborhood kickball game. My friend Linda and I would play street tennis under the lights.
    My favorite book was Black Beauty, loved it then, love it now.

  5. Thanks for all these childhood memories! Some of you have mentioned other books I enjoyed too. After I posted this entry, I wondered if I should have commented on the fact that it’s not as easy, these days, to “provide” this sort of childhood. So much has changed. I daresay, most kids are reading ebooks instead of paperbacks?? Then again, I didn’t want to digress (or preach) in that direction. Just wanted to remember what summer was like back in the 1960s — and feel grateful for it.

  6. We used to head out the front door as soon as we finished a bowl of Cheerios and only come home to use the bathroom or make a PB&J. We rode our bikes until the wheels smoked and played in a gully where culvert pipes ran underneath a golf course.
    We didn’t have many books, not for children anyway. I remember my mom reading Valley Of The Dolls!
    We did however have a few volumes of Readers Digest condenced books and I read those.
    My favorite, and I read this over and over, each time envisioning myself in the story, was A Walk In The Woods.
    It was a gift of sweet escape, one I will always cherich.

  7. I loved Pippi too, and another braided redhead from the Maritimes named Anne Shirley.
    A love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books must be genetic: I just purchased the boxed set for my grand girl and will deliver it in time for a good summer read.
    Great, nostalgic, piece Cindy…thanks for stirring my memory!

    • Betty, another to add to the Spunk Redhead list is Madeline, of the Ludwig Bemelmans series. My mom read “Madeline and the Bad Hat” when I was very young, and I always admired Madeline’s pluck. There’s an essay about that in my book, which you probably remember, cousin!

  8. How lucky you were, Cindy, to have discovered your love of books at such a young age. It took me much longer, but fortunately, I eventually did.

    I grew up in a small town with a gaggle of neighborhood kids too. The memories of my childhood are all good– bike riding, running through the sprinkler on hot days, and eating fresh picked corn on the cob! I loved summer.

    Hope yours is going great.
    xo jj

  9. Ahh…. summers before I was 10 are my best memories of my life. We ran wild with the kids from the neighborhood, had forts, explored the RR tracks,woods, streams, biked everywhere. Once I picked a handful of flowers for my mom and later she was observing a strong odor, not pleasant, from them. Turned out they were Skunk Cabbage flowers – phew.
    But lastly, I was a voracious reader of anything I could from the library, others bookshelves, our own. Favs were Charlotte’s Web, Peter Pan, Stuart Little, Nancy Drew, Five Little Peppers etc. Laying on the small patch of grass that was shaded next to the house or in the field hidden by the grass I would not go out to play unless others came and got me ( daily luckily) since I always preferred the world in my head.
    Kids today don’t have most of those opportunities due to safety concerns, lack of true neighborhoods etc. But I do try to supply some of it to my child… magic.

  10. This brought back some nice memories…countless hours playing made-up games, running through the sprinkler, playing marbles, riding bikes. Once a week, we walked to the library to stock up on books so we could get a certificate at the end of the summer for reading a certain number of books. (I wonder if you did that, too.) We didn’t care that our mother locked us out of the house all afternoon so she could watch Bill Kennedy’s movies in peace. She would probably get arrested for doing that today. lol

  11. I, too, was an only child and did pretty much the same things you did. In the group of kids on our street, I was the older one – usually playing the teacher or the mom when we played house or school.
    Out of all the Scholastic Book Club books I ordered the one I remember most is The Snake The Went to School. I pretty much thrashed Swiss Family Robinson and The Jungle Book.
    I enjoyed reading your memories 🙂

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