Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summer Games

Oh, how wonderful that the camp chairs are back in the car! That we're back on the small (really small) ball park circuit, making the rounds in the late afternoons between Mound City, Oregon, Rock Port and our lovely ball field in Tarkio with the back drop of river bottom fields and grain bins. We jump in the car, dusty and sticky from a day on the farm, grab some tea or a pop, and we're set for an hour of simple entertainment. No stress, no tears, no recriminations, no hassling the ump or any other official. Just sport and the knowledge that the cycle continues as small boys pick up mitts and bats as they have for lo these many years.

And when do you get your first fishing pole? My grandfathers were both fishermen. Laura and I got our first Zebcos from Grandma and Grandpa Froerer. With target circles of automobile belts laid out on the river rock driveway behind their house, we would practice casting our rubber plugs from the rock wall like we were on the dock at the Lake. I don't know if we improved our aim, but we improved our distance and the activity kept us outdoors for hours. Its a vignette etched on my senses: the click, click of the reel, the snap, crackle and pop of firecrackers, the woo-hoo-hoo of the mourning doves in the silence between explosions.

Granny and Grandpa Renken had a pond on their acreage. We would cover ourselves in Off against the ticks and chiggers and wend our way on the mowed path through the fescue heads. I was cool as could be when it came to threading as many pieces of earthworm on my hook. Though economical as well: a prenibbled worm was still good for another cast. Hate to waste good bait, you know. But in the heat of August, the worms retreated to cooler spots and the grasshoppers were big and ubiquitous. But nasty to catch with their prickly wiggly legs and black tobacco spit. Not only that, but merely hooking them between their head and body could sometimes make their heads fly clear off with the first cast and you were back to square one without a single nibble. I had a particular hierarchy when searching for hoppers; in my opinion, the medium sized brown and orange were preferable to the soft green ones. The giant flying behemoths were completely out of the question. You may notice that I fail to mention artificial bait. Sure, we had some lures in our tackle box, but were only allowed to use the little popper bugs occasionally. We fished for blue gill mostly, and my grandpa cleaned those up for eating. If we caught a bass, he was released back to his soft green home. We learned to be quiet and stand still on these outings; fishing teaches patience.

Granny and Grandpa had a sturdy wooden croquet set too. Croquet was an evening game of rollicking competitiveness. To "send" someone's ball into the lilacs, or the honeysuckle, or the willow, was a psychic victory and higher priority than finishing the round through the double wickets. I remember my mother methodically destroying all comers at croquet as she inerringly aimed her mallet at the opposition's balls or smartly knocked her ball through each wicket first. While taunts and hoots were an expected accompaniment to the competition, we would frequently be exhausted from laughing so hard.

These were the days before central air conditioning. Except for a comfortable hour while Granny ironed and watched her soaps in the cool basement, all play was out of doors. It was never too hot to play hide and seek or climb the apple trees in the orchard. We never floated in Granny and Grandpa's farm pond, but spent hours in the new pond my folks built on their acreage in Callaway county. You could hunt frogs if you didn't mind mud between your toes, but watching clouds in a tube was the preferred way to cool off.

We didn't have a farm pond worthy of the name while the kids were growing up. We had to be content with running through a sprinkler strategically placed to cool kids and water posies. Occasionally, a trip to town to the pool would be reward for surviving a particularly nasty afternoon. Or maybe overheated foreheads would be cooled in the quiet dusty confines of the library.

Whether forty years ago, twenty years ago, or just last night, we all make the most of our summer evenings. Until mosquitoes drive us indoors, we sit on our porch or pull weeds for recreation; we grill, we drink tea and watch the walkers of our neighborhood or the little kids on all sizes of bikes. If Ben and Kenzie were here, they'd be playing frisbee. Gabe, Abbie, Lizzie and Aaron would be out of the blue pool by now and dripping their way to some clean jammies and their beds. Tonight this pleasure was abbreviated by the second great sport of summertime: watching the storms roll in. The green skies of the north and the weather patter on KMA drove us indoors to find the ball game on the dish and finish off the angelfood cake and strawberries. Its June 1 and the summer games stretch before us.

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