07312021 Redneck Summer Reading

August rings in the new school year.

By David Kittredge

Back when I was a mere stripling, the month of August heralded the waning of summer vacation, with a bit of boredom starting to creep into the daily schedule.

The arrival of August also ignited a race to finish my summer reading assignments, which had been forsaken for the extraordinary outdoor activities of building lean-tos, wandering through car junkyards to extract chrome hood ornaments, or on one occasion a humongous speedometer from an old Studebaker sedan, which I mounted on my bicycle’s handlebars with the help of my dad. The speedo worked to measure my speed just fine, but the bike was a bit ungainly while cornering.

August also meant new pencil boxes for school, new clothes which you had to actually try on to make sure of proper fit — especially after a growing spurt — and a new pair of Poll-Parrot shoes to get you through the new school year. No more high-water dungarees or Red Ball Jets sneakers, for some reason kids didn’t wear dungarees or sneakers to school in the late fifties or sixties. And school clothes, including shoes were not to be worn at play, just for walking to or attending school.

August also brings the bountiful harvests, which meant fresh corn chowder, with niblets pared from the cob, toasted tomato sandwiches which were made with Arnold Brick Oven sandwich loaf, thinly sliced, and slightly sweeter than other bread. But it was also time for stodge, which my mother made from new potatoes and fresh peas, stewed in a broth of whole milk and butter, seasoned with only salt and pepper. My parents reveled in the thought of fresh stodge, which they had both eaten as children in their respective homes, as I heard my father vigorously slurping his first bowl of the stew, forgoing his normal Emily Post mannerisms of providing me with a good example to behold. If only the stodge had had some fish or bacon, perhaps some onions, I would have understood his relish. I didn’t bother to broach this subject though, I had been taught that my mother’s kitchen was not a restaurant, and rightly so, as I wasn’t contributing to the family coffers, only debiting them. It was fodder for poor folk, a budgetary item, which we ate for a couple of weeks, probably due to the fact that their son needed new shoes and clothes for school, though that fact was never mentioned.

August was also time for summer camp during the last week thereof, at Camp Idlewild which was located on an island in Lake Winnipesaukee. To get to the camp, we rode aboard a PT boat called the “Uncle Sam II,” which was also the lake’s mail boat. This summer camp was normally for the rich, with horse riding lessons and tennis instruction, but was offered to the Nazarene Church’s children the last week of August, without the aforementioned activities. The reason I know this is that the first year I went, there was a lonely boy, a summer long camper, who had been stranded by his parents, for the final week of summer, his mother and father extended their tour of Europe. The kid stood out from the rest of us because her wore the dark blue camp uniform consisting of a beany on his head, shorts, knee stockings, white shirt, bow tie and a blazer with the camp insignia on the breast of the coat. He was also the only kid with a constant dour expression on his face, which caught my attention as I approached him to ask what the matter was? He told me of his plight and of the horses and tennis lessons, but after two months he was sick of it, and especially so as his cadre of friends and the horses and tennis instructors had embarked for the mainland and home. I rationalized that his situation of being rich, having the niceties not afforded to us poorer folks was not as idyllic as it seemed at the outset of the conversation with the tales of horse riding and tennis instruction.

The lonesome boy had also informed me that the weekly fee was normally $100 at the posh camp versus the $15 I had to pay to attend. Yes, I did contribute to the $15 fee by mowing three lawns at 50 cents a pop. I recall my father over the years doing the first mowing and that he made the lawn bigger by cutting swathes of what started as an adjacent field, into what became our expanded lawn. I brought this to my father’s attention, explaining that since the lawn was bigger, I should be getting a raise in my allowance. I found that I was alone in my capitalist rationalizations and reasoning. I later tried a different tact after getting raises from my two other customers, charging them 75 cents per mowing. When I brought this up to my father as a lever to get a raise from him, he again said no, called our neighbors and told them not to give me a raise. I learned an important lesson that day in not using a guilt trip when negotiating a labor dispute and an even more important lesson in keeping my big trap shut.

As I mentioned before, I merely contributed to the $15 camp fee. My parents always made up the difference and gave me a few dollars for spending money at the camp candy store, to boot.

David Kittredge is a regular contributor to The Eagle Times. You can send comments to him via the editor.

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