8-reasons-summer-was better

8 Reasons Summers Were Better When I Was A Kid

We’re nearly at a third of the way through summer vacation, and after a day like today, I have to wonder…how did my mom manage to READ so often in the summer when I was a kid? Seriously, the first two memories that come to mind when I look back at my mom during our summer vacations (when we weren’t reading) were of her (a) curled up with a book on the TV room* sofa, telling me to “put down my book and get outside”, and (b) vacuuming**.

(*Why we called it the “tv room” when the entire wall the tiny TV sat upon was actually a bookshelf, and nearly every inch was filled with books, save the knick-knacks, and we read as much as watched television in that room.

**Apparently, we were really messy when we were home.)

When I told the kiddos it was time to turn off the TV and grumbled “you watch too much TV”, they asked “well, what did YOU do over summer vacation?”  While I’m sure we were bored, we probably didn’t tell our mom that, or we’d be put to work. And as I thought about it, I came up with eight reasons why summers were better when I was a kid:

8-reasons-summer-was better

1) TV was still a “big deal” and we only had 13 channels  (and when we got MTV, it played music videos. All. The. Time.)

We watched the Brady Bunch, the Monkees, the Partridge Family, and the Wonderful World of Disney came on (and the movie might have been introduced by Walt Disney, himself) every week at 6pm, for which I remember sitting with my sister, ready for the movie to start. Cartoons were shown every Saturday morning until noon or so.  And then we turned off the television and went to play, either outside or with neighborhood kids, because we’d seen everything worthwhile.

Photo via Retroland


Now, our TV has about 26,000 channels, most of them informercials, and there is no such thing as Saturday morning cartoons because there are entire channels devoted to obnoxious programming, most of which the kids label as “dumb” (and then watched endlessly).

2) Summer “camps” were cheap, and our parents signed us up for everything they could.

My town had a summer recreation program: crafts at the park, art camp, bowling at Carretto’s Bowling lanes, swimming lessons at the YMCA, tennis lessons, and t-ball. We always signed up for every session of bowling; my mom would drop us off with a dollar or two, we’d get our shoes, amble up to the snack bar and order a “Suicide” (a drink order the bartender dutifully filled the glass by hitting every button on the soda gun). We learned to properly bowl, none of this baby bumper stuff (that was for the real babies there), and we had a blast. I can’t remember what crafts we did at the park, but I’m betting that my younger sister and I walked the three blocks there on our own, because we could.

Fact: my hometown STILL has the summer rec program, and some of the same classes are offered.

3) We had full run of the neighborhood.

It was easier for my sister as she had two good friends who lived the next block over. My friends lived about 12 blocks away, and I’d hazard a guess that by the time I was 10 I was riding my bike over there on my own. We would ride bikes through the neighborhood, go to the local park (where, honestly, there was nothing but a sand pit, a shelter, a tennis court and lots of grass, groups of bushes that made great fairy dens, and plenty of room for imagination.) My friend had a very old summer house behind her house, dusty, piled with dusty wooden chairs and ancient trunks that no longer had keys, and we would have adventures. There was no shortage of creativity as a kid.

As for video games  – at one point we had an Atari, and a game of Pong and Space Invaders – and believe me, it was high tech, but I don’t recall sitting for hours playing it.

4.) Going to the pool was a social affair.

In our community, so many people have backyard pools that when we go to the neighborhood pool, we might be the only ones there. Now, this isn’t a bad thing in the greater scheme of things, but from a social standpoint as a kid, it’s a bust. When I was a kid, we went to the town pool. If you could get past the slightly scary showers without getting wet (and not getting caught not rinsing off), you would find an open spot on the concrete, spread out your towel, and jump in the fray. Or you could go jump off one of the three diving boards, the high dive being the scariest. At break time, you’d rush the snack bar with the money your mom gave you for snacks. If you were fancy pants and had a season pass, they had a printed fabric “badge” that you had to sew onto your swimsuit (until, thankfully, they switched to a punch card.) Some days it might be so crowded you couldn’t as much swim as bob, but you were at the POOL, and at 10, that meant life was GOOD. Music was always blasting from the speakers, and there are a few songs that bring me back to Riordan Pool; the song “My Sharona” will be forever associated with the scent of Chlorine and Copper Girl Suntan Oil. You know, #2, so you would get a really GOOD tan.

5. Going to the movies

This was a big treat and meant more than just going to the theater. It also meant going at Spence’s bakery with a whole dollar to spend on penny candy, which they’d put in a tiny paper bag so you KNEW you got a lot: “I’d like ten Swedish Fish and four Bit-o-Honey and…ooh, I can’t decide”.

spences bakery

If you were really lucky it meant stopping catty-corner from the movie theater to buy a box or two of popcorn from the Popcorn Wagon (whose owner, Mr. Morgan, looked remarkably like Abe Lincoln); your mom would shove said box in her giant purse because his was ten times better than the popcorn at the Roxy. How she paid for the tickets without spilling the contents of her purse, I’ll never know.  Yeah, she looked innocent with those big glasses and huge perm, but she was a renegade (with the rest of the moms).

popcorn wagon

Could it really be wrong buying popcorn from Abe Lincoln? Were you expecting a photo of my Mom?

I do carry on my mom’s tradition; it just means we stop in at Target for the $1 movie size boxes of candy, though – nothing as dicey as full cardboard boxes of popcorn and the possibility of eating popcorn directly from her purse because the bottom unfolded during our subterfuge.

6. When dad asked “who wants soda?”, that meant we were taking a ride to the bottling factory in the neighborhood.

We’d fill a wooden case with glass bottles of orange, Dr. Pepper, lemon-lime and Green River soda (which I remember tasting much better than the retro stuff I found at the grocery store recently and bought out of nostalgia. I bet it was made with real sugar back then, though.)

ottawa beveridge

If you’ve indulged in a Mexican coke, you remember how good it was to drink soda from a glass bottle. The taste was totally different, I swear.

7. Family vacations mostly meant spending time together.

There was that one time we flew to California to visit grandma, or a time or two when we drove to Florida in a motor home, and that was a BIG deal, but it mostly might have been borrowing my Uncle Wally’s camper and going to the campground and swimming in the lake, or it might have been piling in the car and driving to Michigan to visit cousins (where we would run around with the rest of the neighborhood kids, playing ghost in the graveyard long after dark). I remember one trip where we had to drive my uncle’s pickup to Michigan because my parents were buying beds for us at the nearby furniture factory on the return trip, so my sister and I got to ride in the (covered) cab of the pickup on folding chairs, and probably read books and ate snacks the entire way. Nothing like ’70’s vehicle safety (not to mention that once the cab was full of beds, all five of us plus the dog piled in the front of the pickup for the return trip.) Not enough seat belts in the standard cab of a pickup truck for five people, you say? We didn’t wear no stinking seatbelts in the 70s!

Really, our kids take vacations too much for granted these days, and it’s totally different when everyone has their nose in a device or the car is silent with the watching of the DVD player.

Which brings me to number eight:

8. Safety, schmafety.

Today, everything is dangerous. It isn’t safe to go to the park alone, you have to be so tall/weigh so much to even ride in the front seat, and there are dangers lurking around every corner.

When I was a kid, calling “shotgun” was the first order of business any time we had the chance to sit in the front seat. There were no seat belts, so those long car trips meant that you could take a pillow and stretch out on the seat (or in the back of a pickup); the best seat after shotgun was the one rear-facing seat of the station wagon, where we would pump our fists in the air as we passed semis to get the drivers to blow their horns. We rode in the back of open cabs; we sat on our dad’s lap and he’d let us steer his car. When my dad was working on the roof of the garage, we all got to climb up and hang out…and in ’78, if I remember the year, when we had a HUGE blizzard with the snow nearly to the roof, we climbed back onto the roof of that garage, bundled up in snowsuits like little eskimos…and jumped off into the snow piles.

I’d probably kill my kids myself (if the jump didn’t) if they tried that today (or if they tried half the stuff we did back then).  I don’t know if we were lucky or stupid, but we had fun.

I really wish I had access to my family photo albums because I bet I have some doozies to go along with the memories, but I know on the next trip to visit my parents, I’m going to give the kids some big laughs and show them pictures of the “good old days”.

Heaven help me.

So what about YOU?

How is Summer Vacation different for your kids than it was for you growing up?


  • Margaret

    You have unlocked sooo many childhood memories here. I think I will take your prompts and write my ‘book.’ When I went to the movies there was no need to sneak in snacks – theatre popcorn was the best and only a quarter. By the time I was old enough to go to the drive-in for Vincent Price movies on a date, popcorn was only a dollar… but, my friend’s mother DID make popsicles in ice cube trays rather than buying them from the grocery store!

    • Jenn

      I remember making popsicles in ice cube trays…and in those little Dixie cups!!!
      Even in the 70’s the movie candy was beyond our budget, I think. Penny candy fit the bill nicely.

      Fun times! Thanks for sharing YOUR memories!!!

  • kat

    This was so fun to read! Some of it I could really relate to. Music on MTV, 13 channels, the run of the neighborhood…but you lost me with the popcorn and the penny store. What fun memories!

    • Jenn

      The popcorn/penny store memories were a gamble as they were unique to my hometown…I’ll have to remember that, next time. My kids asked what MTV was. So there’s that.

      Glad you enjoyed it!!!

  • madamdreamweaver

    I remember many of those same sorts of thing–all the shows, Disney on Sunday nights introduced by Walt himself. The only pool was a public pool 30 minutes away and we went. It was a big deal. The only movie theatre was an outdoor movie theatre and we’d make brownies & our own popcorn to take with us, since we sat in the car with a speaker on the window. Good times. I love an old fashioned outdoor theatre.

  • mommysnest

    I always think of the pool where my grandparents lived – and I spent at least two weeks every summer with them – when I hear Summer Breeze by Seals & Croft. 🙂

  • Mimi

    Just for a reference, the main reason I had so much time to read is that I didn’t have to drive you kids around to a bunch of activities. The summer rec programs were close enough to walk and you could ride or walk all around Ottawa by yourselves. And if you think you had fun summers, we could play hide and seek (do they still do that) outside, at night, in the dark, and no one would call the cops. Except for one guy who didn’t like us climbing on the roof of his shed to hide. Plus (friend and I were discussing this the other day) we took her sisters little, bitty scooter and rode it about 5 miles (across the river bridge) to Blackhawk Beach and never got arrested. God we were lucky as we were in 7th or 8th grade. Glad you have good memories of growing up. The pictures are ready for you to take home with you anytime you want them. PLEASE……

    • Jenn

      And just for clarification, I’m NOT being critical AT ALL.
      Consider it jealousy. Not that I don’t love doing things with the kids, if only I could get the kids to do MORE. You know they have good imaginations – Miss M is forced to use hers more, Boo just…is turning into a teenager. Ugh.

      And I was thinking about Blackhawk Beach last night…and Pitsticks, and the one time we got to go swimming in the big Pit (behind the fire station) – what was that one called? I’m sure it is closed (and contaminated) now.

  • Kristy

    Ottawa orange is the only pop I have ever liked. I loved that stuff!

    My kids don’t take vacations too much for granted because we only go on one a year. They do ask why we can’t go on vacation for Christmas break, Spring break, and summer like everyone else…but they know the answer.

    I don’t let my kids sit on my lap and drive but I do let them (and the neighbor kids) sit on the center counsel and drive. It’s amazing how getting to put the car in gear and steering is still a big deal for them in this age of electric scooters, xboxes and iPads. Sadly (or scarily) I have one getting his permit in September so he will actually be driving, not pretending!

    I remember jumping off the roof into the snow drifts in ’78, too! My kids want to climb out on the roof but they keep asking me and I keep telling them, “If you ask I am obligated as your mother to tell you No.” They haven’t figured out if they just do it and get caught so what.

    • Jenn

      Your boy is NOT old enough for drivers’ ed, I refuse to accept that.
      And I have to wonder if those are YOUR kids, because you would have acted first, asked forgiveness later….

  • Hilda

    Ahhh I miss those good ol days! I used to watch the Monkees before school and I remember the World of Disney on Saturdays and play outside every day! Good times! 🙂

    • Jenn

      Do you remember the After School specials? And Scooby Doo!!!
      And…am I too old but I remember a show called the Banana Splits?
      Thanks for sharing memories with me.

      • Hilda

        Ooh yes, I do! The only one I can’t remember is the Banana Splits. I remember also Kid Video. Oh yes those after school specials were so much fun to watch.

        Aw you are so welcome, and thank you too for sharing your memories with me too. It is wonderful to learn we love the same shows. 🙂

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