Ah, the memories of lazy, hazy days of summer linger — the most carefree days of my life with no bills to pay, figuring out what to make for dinner or other adult concerns.

Sweating has always annoyed me, and air conditioning was unheard of back then. We propped windows and doors open — allowing all sorts of pesky insects access to us — and considered ourselves blessed to have a fan — especially one that oscillated. Easily entertained in those days, we rotated in front of that fan, talking to create strange sounds distorted by the blur of turning blades.

At one point, we lived in the upstairs apartment of a very large home that had been converted into five rental units, each occupied by various relatives. It was a great experience to grow up with cousins for playmates.

In the side yard, I could usually be found underneath the enormous weeping willow tree. Its drapery of leafy branches touched the ground forming an enormous umbrella. Inside was the coolest — and dampest — place we could find. Many games and lazy afternoons happened there. It was ideal to play house, build things, swap stories, curl up with a book and more, amid laughter.

There we lurked until we heard the milk truck pull into the driveway. Then, we pounced. Oh, that poor driver! His first mistake was treating each of us with little half-pint bottles of chocolate milk. Another day, it was orange juice. Little leeches we were, with a complete lack of business understanding as we greedily swarmed his truck like bees to a hive.

He must have dreaded this stop on his route, but there we were, day after day. Some days, he had nothing for us. Other days, we were content with a two-handed ice chunk. At least it cooled us down despite semi-frostbit fingers.

The only girl cousins were preschool age, and there was an abundance of boys. I was a bit of a tomboy. Anything they did, I was game for, except the time I stepped barefoot on a slithering snake!

We later moved into a house about a mile away. There, I picked large bowls of wild blackberries from the empty lot behind us. Yard, garden and housework, amid firstborn duties, kept me busy. Near the end of the growing season, all the cousins gathered, and we played hide and seek until well after dark, relying on the glow of lights from inside the house as our guide.

The older boys decided throwing the rotten tomatoes that had fallen from the vines was entertaining. Joining right in, it wasn’t long before I regretted it. Running at top speed toward the garden, the metal clothesline wire caught me right under the chin. That was a painful wakeup, but it got worse.

Still extricating myself from the wire, I was hit! Not once, but twice — right in the face. Let me tell you, the sting of rotten tomatoes and nasty taste when hit right between the eyes as well as directly on the mouth is gross. My death grip on that clothesline steadied me or I would have been down and out as still I gagged.

We played in creeks, hunting rocks, wading to cool down and catching minnows. One summer, I tried every day to catch the giant of all minnows. It successfully evaded my Dixie cup till near the end of the season. I caught it! Such joy at victory after all my determination. But alas, it dawned on me that there was no option but to release it back into the clear water, which failed to dampen my arduous quest, as satisfaction was mine.

The front porch was always my favorite "room." Long hours were spent there, snapping beans or stringing them to dry for shucky beans. Lessons were learned, and beloved stories remain dear to my heart.

Probably the best thing that happened to me was between the second and sixth grades, when our community had “Summer Recreation” at the local school. Every day, I hustled to get chores done and take my younger siblings to participate.

They had activities galore, with exposure to things of which I was otherwise deprived. Among the things learned were tennis, tap, ballet and modern dancing, ping pong, drama, various arts and crafts and so much more. There were programs for each age group, so my siblings had their own fun as I trusted their leaders to care for them. It was a blessed opportunity for me, as we struggled at home to keep food on the table.

Some things don’t change, as my favorite thing about summer is still ice-cold watermelon with a generous sprinkle of salt. Mmm. Guess I’ll go carve up the one in fridge right now.

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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