A tale of two summers

Published 3:02 pm Monday, July 31, 2023

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I had an interesting conversation with some young teens recently who told me playing their video games on their phones during summer vacation was the best fun ever.  And that having Door Dash deliver ice cream treats as well as groceries to their homes was ‘real good living.’ They asked me what fun things I did on my summer vacation as a kid since I didn’t have video games. I really enjoyed the following stories.

The Ice Cream Man (as best as I can remember) rode a large three wheeled vehicle through the neighborhood with a large receptacle that had all kinds of popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.  My favorites were Eskimo Pies and Push-Ups, which was orange sherbet in a tube-like container you had to push up thru the tube to eat.  He’d ring a bell to let you know he was nearby and everyone would run out to meet him to buy their treats.

‘The Watermelon Man’ was a farmer who grew the best watermelons and rode through town to sell them off the back of his pick-up truck. Nobody I knew bought watermelons from the grocery stores. We all waited for the watermelon man to come through the neighborhood. Anybody who has had a slice of those melons that were chilled on ice by the people who bought them will tell you nothing was better than that.  Many of the older folks called watermelons ‘August hams’. The term came from watermelons being the most plentiful in August and the fact that watermelons could be smoked as used as a meat substitute, (check out the recipes for watermelon ham on Google.)

Going to the store and buying a bottle of soda that had just been taken out of the soda coolers, which were large containers beverage companies had placed in the stores and were filled with crushed ice, was the greatest. You dug down deep in ice cold water to select your favorite drink and walked home with that ice cold soda bottle as the best relief against summer heat.

Summer days spent on Griffin’s Beach was the stuff of legends. The river and the breeze from it provided relief from the heat.  The fried crabs were a staple for countless generations, and the music and dancing there was a mainstay of our childhood. People fished and crabbed there and the beach was the site of many church baptisms and homecomings.  The children swam and played in the water while the older folks sat under the trees nearby and shared stories from their past and hopes for the future generation.

Going to the Bridge Street Recreation Center (now the Boys and Girls Club) to learn to play all kinds of board games, do arts and crafts, learn the newest dances and hang out with friends in the center’s cool environment was great fun.

More relief from the heat came from the local stores. Many of my trips to Tayloe’s Drug Store on Main St. with my sister Lena were to buy a cup of soda filled with finely crushed ice to drink as we searched for our favorite comic books to buy.  Then over to Jimmy’s News Stand to buy more comic books. Our favorites drink was the Orangeade he sold.

McClellan’s Department store afforded a cool place to hang out.  We’d watch the goldfish swim in the aquariums in the back of the store as we cooled off.  Then we’d buy Jacks, Old Maid cards, marbles and Bo-Lo Bats (which were a small red ball attached to a paddle by a rubber string) and then we’d make our way home.  Precious and fun were those summer days of my youth. The young folks I was talking with and agreed they wished they could visit the places of my childhood.

They could not however understand the concept of a telephone being attached to the wall though or a ‘party line.’ But they got even. I did not understand some of the emojis on their cell phones.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.