The Broadway production of Porgy and Bess featured a George Gershwin tune titled “Summertime.” One line in the song went like this: “Summer time and the livin’ is easy.” When I think back on the summers of my boyhood, I don’t remember any of them being particularly “easy.”
I am inclined to think of tobacco patches, hay fields and corn fields. The work my father, my brothers and I performed, in no way, seemed to be easy. We hoed and chopped tobacco (There is a difference between the two.) When you hoe tobacco you manipulate the soil to the advantage of the growing plants, as in “pulling dirt around the plant.” When you chop tobacco you are removing weeds and grass until the tobacco plants have grown sufficiently to “shade” them out.
And we chopped Johnson grass in corn rows so long they seemed to have no end. Sometimes it seemed the more you fought the Johnson grass the longer the corn rows grew. I learned to hate sweat bees during by corn chopping days. Those little antagonists were relentless. Someone said if you hold your breath when you mash a sweat bee they won’t sting. Weren’t true.
Chopping Johnson grass helped me come to appreciate a jug of ice water waiting at the end of the row. In those days we carried water to the field in big-mouth, glass gallon jugs. First, we filled the jug with ice cubes from ice trays, then finished filling the jug with water. The jug was then wrapped in layers of newspaper and lowered into a big, brown grocery sack. That kind of insulation would rival any modern day ice chest (cooler.) Water from those jugs was so cold it would give you a headache if you drank too fast.
My brothers, my sister, and I all learned to drive a motor vehicle in the hay fields in the summertime. We all started out in a pickup truck. We mastered a straight-shift transmission before we even heard of an automatic. We all made good drivers, too.
Strong muscles and endurance were developed in hay fields and in barn lofts in the summertime. In the earliest years we literally pitched square bales of hay from the hay wagon to the first level of the loft, then higher into the barn. I recall the air not moving very well high inside a barn loft as it was being filled with hay.
Summertime — makes me think of going barefoot until the bottom of your feet were as tough as shoe leather. Of course, there were hazards to avoid while running barefoot, like honey bees and rusty nails and broken fruit jars. And you had to avoid cow piles unless you wanted to show off a dark green foot.
Summertime was a time for wading in a creek and feeling the cool mud squishing up between your toes — and watching little purple-winged butterflies feasting on fresh cow manure near the creek bank — and discovering a tumble bug rolling his treasure to who knows where.
Summertime — when my brothers and I helped seine creek minnows in the late afternoon in anticipation of crappie fishing on the morrow. And we fell asleep to the droning of a window fan thinking daylight could not arrive soon enough.
Very often thoughts of summertime take me back to the Brim Hollow where I spent weeks-at-a-time with my maternal grandparents. My Granny Lena often took me blackberry picking where I fell victim to chiggers more often than not. I recall shelling specked butter beans on the back steps and helping her make crabapple jelly.
Oh, the summers of my youth when the dinner table (noon meal) was laden with fresh vegetables from the garden and ice-cold sweet tea — a time when if you stopped at a country store with a nickel in your pocket you thought you had the world by the tail.
Looking back, maybe the livin’ was easy.
Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a humorist and motivational speaker.