School was out and three months of blissful freedom lay ahead. Yes, there were chores to perform — mowing the lawn, wielding a hoe in seemingly endless rows of corn, suckering and staking tomatoes, and helping out at home and at my paternal grandparents’ house in various ways. Then, as the halcyon days of early adolescence yielded before the complexity of becoming a teenager, there was an expectation of holding some type of job that paid “cash money.” In my case that involved a wide range of work including cutting grass, caddying on the local golf course before graduating to spending seemingly endless hours atop a tractor seat mowing fairways, and showing and renting rooms at a local motel. I even had sporadic stints cooking at the restaurant associated with the motel when the regular kitchen hand, hopelessly hungover, would fail to show after having spent his week’s paycheck consuming as much alcohol as his wages would purchase.
Always though, I found time aplenty for sheer fun in the summer sun. It seems as the years separating me from those times of June jubilation lengthen, memories of the simple pleasures they afforded strengthen. Perhaps sharing some of those fond recollections from my own youth will kindle similarly warm recall in the minds of readers, but of far greater significance, I’d like for this little trip into yesteryear to serve as an incentive for adults, no matter their age, to expose youngsters to these and similar joys. Almost all of them involve being outside, and all represent an “escape” from the artificiality and lack of physical activity connected with technological wonders so cherished by the latter part of Generation Z and whatever moniker is attached to those who follow. They are simple, inexpensive or free of charge, and in most cases offer healthy exercise along with actual in-person interaction with others of a similar age.
As good a place to begin as any involves fun with insects actually named for the month — June bugs. While dozens of different types of these big-bodied scarab beetles exist, the ones I’ve always called by the name are green in color, most active during the heat of the day, and normally can be seen buzzing busily around lawns or gardens. Anyone who has done much working in the soil has also likely encountered them in another form, as white grub worms.
Never mind the details of entomology, for me as a youngster June bugs represented entertainment. The idea was to catch several of them, entrap them in a quart Mason canning jar, and carefully attach a fairly long strand of sewing thread surreptitiously “borrowed” from Momma’s capacious spool chest to a leg. Voila! You had a helicopter you could control, and if you wanted a bit of chaos, you could launch two of your insect sky ships simultaneously. Between that pair and others waiting their turn in a jar, the usual result was a glorious tangle of thread, insects, and a generally unholy mess.
The whole operation — chasing and catching the insects, carefully attaching thread, attempting to set them flying, sorting out the inevitable mess, and being noxiously perfumed amidst all the turmoil by the June bugs’ distinct and decidedly unappealing aroma was something of an extended exercise in futility with no really meaningful end. Yet aren’t such exercises precisely what being a kid should be all about? All I can say for sure is that I whiled away many an idle and happy hour with June bugs.
Quite different in nature inasmuch as it was a nocturnal activity, involved just enough of a move in the direction of forbidden fruit in the form of parental disapproval to add to its appeal, was the exercise known as skinny dipping. Simply put, skinny dipping is swimming in the nude. In my personal experience this involved one of two approaches — sneaking into a closed pool at a local high-dollar inn or swimming au naturel in a deep pool in a nearby creek. The pool at the resort spot was sufficiently distant from the main lodge to reduce the likelihood of being caught to a minimum, although on one occasion a caretaker surprised a bunch of us in the act, forcing us to flee the scene naked as a flock of jaybirds. It was only after what seemed an eternity of hiding in nearby woods and waiting for the coast to clear that we dared sneak back and retrieve our clothing.
Excursions to streams lacked that delicious element of danger, but we always added some spice to the entire proceeding by talking about being joined by girls in our nocturnal exercise in nudity. Discussion aplenty occurred along that line by teens with raging testosterone levels, and more than once daring girls made promises that they would make the scene. Of course, it never happened but it sure provided ample fodder for boyhood conversation and anticipation. In retrospect, I have to reckon it all fell pretty much into the category of fun and frivolity. Since no one was hurt, no property damaged, and no harm of any kind done, after the passage of many a decade I reckon it’s all right to give skinny dipping an elder’s grudging seal of approval.
Summer’s advent brought another interesting side of life, in this case a ritual as enduring as our very existence related to social gatherings and the uncertain first footsteps in courtship. In some senses all that has changed, while in others “timeless” is the word of choice. I daresay you’d search far and wide to find a teenager today who knows the meaning of bussing, as in a kiss, and terminology such as going steady, jewlarking, courting, sweetheart, beau, he-ing and she-ing, pinned, or sparking will almost certainly be similarly alien. In yesteryear, early footsteps in the realm of romance involved personal interaction, not texts, emails, or even phone calls. In the latter regard, many folks didn’t even have phones when I was growing up. Those who did were almost certainly on party lines. The last thing a sensitive and perhaps somewhat shy teenager wanted was an old biddy or two listening in on every word of fumbling, stumbling attempts to ask for a date or maybe arrange a meeting at the soda parlor.
Another joy of summer that, while not lost, seems far less prevalent than once was the case involved bike riding. From the age of 8 or 9, most youngsters both male and female had some type of bicycle. It might be a new one that came at Christmas or, as was the case with me, a second-hand bike Daddy located and I purchased with $15 of hard-earned “cash money” accumulated doing odd jobs, picking blackberries for sale, and scrimping with my whopping allowance of two bits per week.
Bikes expanded a youngster’s geographical horizons, whether he lived in the country or a small town, to an appreciable degree. For me it meant longer jaunts to prime swimming or fishing holes, a chance to visit friends who lived far enough away to make walking somewhat problematic, and the sheer pleasure of feeling the wind in one’s face or listening to the flapping of cards affixed to spokes in bicycle wheels. The latter involved taking stiff cards, usually the immensely popular baseball cards sold with bubble gum in packs produced by the likes of Fleer and Topps. When clipped to bike spokes, normally with a clothespin, they produced quite a racket as the bike was being pedaled about. Of course, the wear and tear on the cards took a toll and they soon lost any collecting appeal. But then what carefree youngster had an eye to the future and the vast growth in the sporting collectibles market?
Bicycles could be decorated in many other ways besides flapping cards. Among them were streamers trailing from handlebar covers, a miniature air horn, a battery operated “headlight,” reflective adornments for the back if one rode at night, the equivalent of saddle bags, and even a highly utilitarian basket. With a sufficiently capacious basket, one could transport all sorts of items — maybe a midweek run of a few groceries, lunch for a day of biking about, a change of clothing, a baseball and glove, a small tackle box holding fishing gear, and much more. My trusty 24-inch bike probably saw more use in connection with fishing trips than anything else. I could pedal it, replete with a basket holding food and gear, to some cherished fishing spot whenever the spirit moved me. I somehow managed a cane pole or two as well, although that required astute avoidance of obstacles of all sorts as one made his way along.
Leisurely fishing was almost a byword for many a lad and lass in summertime. They could sit idly on the shore of a creek, river, or pond and wait for a bobber to bounce. Or maybe they engaged in piscatorial pursuits of a more active nature such as wade fishing in a stream, running a trot line or a series of throw lines, doing some jug fishing, or moving from one spot to another in a homemade boat paddled or poled for progress through the water. Some of my most memorable boyhood days involved this type of angling, with a fair portion of it sharing the water with a smelly old codger who exuded all sorts of exotic auras. One was aromatic in nature since he never bathed during the summer while another was half-hidden knowledge that he had been involved in some time of escapade many years before that resulted in him spending time in the state penitentiary. I was an adult before I knew the whole story and learned that he was a convicted murderer. That’s a story for another time, but it does point to the fact that adolescents were drawn to things that carried a bit of danger — whether it involved climbing high into trees, swinging on grapevines, or being around sketchy characters — like honeybees to sourwood blossoms.
The grand old South Carolina writer who was our state’s first poet laureate, Archibald Rutledge, titled one of his books Those Were the Days. My youthful experiences differed in some ways from his, but I certainly appreciate all the wonders of youthful Junes as I knew them. Looking back in longing nostalgia brings not only a sense of ever returning joy but also the realization that June activities of the sort I have discussed were indeed a time of wonderment. Those were the delightful days of June jubilation!
Jim Casada is a longtime freelance writer with more than two dozen books and thousands of magazine articles behind him. His most recent book, released only a month ago, is Celebrating Southern Appalachian Food: Recipes & Stories from Mountain Kitchens, coauthored with Tipper Pressley.