Summer fun in the city


Joan Baxter



As soon as school closed for the summer, the kids donned shorts and tossed aside the shoes. It was summer, a time to go barefoot and feel the newly mowed grass under your feet.

If you were a city kid, no doubt one of the staples was a large piece of chalk to draw on the sidewalk, usually a hop scotch pattern which could be used again and again. You only needed a small rock to mark where you should not jump and some friends to keep you company as you jumped again and again on the grid.

Depending on where you lived, there might be a park nearby with swings and slides or even a tennis court.

Baseball games were not usually well organized, at least not in my neighborhood. Someone owned a ball and someone else owned a bat so the game was on. Sometimes there were enough people to have both a pitcher and a catcher, but if not, if the batter missed the ball, the batter would retrieve it and throw it back to the pitcher. Bases could be whatever was handy. A flat rock might do well.

One of the greatest treats for kids was when the ice man came. Refrigerators were very uncommon so ice boxes were the normal means of keeping food chilled. The box had an opening at the top for a huge cake of ice which kept the insulated box cool until of course, all the ice melted into a pan under the box. That is where the ice man came in. He would stop in front of each house where a sign was placed in the window indicating what size of block was needed that day. He would chip off the proper size and with huge tongs carry it on his padded shoulder to place in the icebox. The kids loved it because they could pick up the small chips which remained to provide a cool summer treat.

When I was a child, we had an ice cream man. His name was Amos. I assume he had a last name, but we never heard it. You always knew he was on the block because you would hear him ring his merry bell which was mounted on the handlebar of his bicycle. The bike was rather unique because there was a large insulated box attached which held ice cream bars or popsicles, keeping them cold until a child brought a nickel or dime to make a purchase. Obviously, all the kids adored Amos and hoped for enough change to make a purchase each day, but often mother would determine the number of days the treat was acceptable.

The A&W Root Beer Stand was a welcome adventure to young and old alike. One could get a large frosty glass of root beer to enjoy on a hot evening and there was even a child-sized mug available.

Ceiling fans were only seen in the movies about tropical, exotic places. The average household was cooled by one or two fans with minimal wires to keep small fingers away. Kids learned quickly not to get too close. An oscillating fan was wonderful. In theory, it moved the air around the room to keep it cooler. Going to the movies was a real treat because they advertised that the building was air conditioned. Some stores had air conditioning as well, but the average home was cooled by a fan.

Drive-in theaters such as Skyborn in Fairborn were very popular. Teens might try to see how many they could get into a car on one price night and parents enjoyed the luxury of having the children perhaps drift off to sleep during the show. If they stayed awake, at least the parent did not have to caution the child to be silent so others in the theater could hear the movie. Popcorn was always available at the refreshment stand, but you could even bring your own.

Those who have lived in Xenia for a while will remember the “bug truck.” The city, in an attempt to lower the mosquito population, would send a truck around neighborhoods which dispensed a heavy fog. A lot of kids thought it was great fun to follow the truck on bicycles as closely as possible in spite of mother’s warning that this could not be healthy for a person, if it killed bugs.

Of course, the kids did not wear helmets when riding; helmets were for football players, not bike riders. Do you remember the “banana seat” bike?

Roller skates were great fun. The wheels were made of steel which was probably a good thing since the kids skated on sidewalks. This was one of the times shoes were necessary. There was a leather strap which was fastened around the ankle and over the front wheels was a clamp which had to be loosened somewhat to get the shoe in place and then tightened with a small wrench which was known as a skate key. The key was usually placed on a cord or string with the string hung around the neck so it was always readily available when the clamp needed to be tightened.

Boys played mumble peg with real knives while girls usually went for something a little less dangerous such as jacks or jump rope.

Most housewives wore cotton house dresses during the day, but if the lady went out, she wore a nice dress, stockings and a hat. Every lady had several hats depending on the season. White shoes were not worn before Memorial Day and certainly not after Labor Day. Hazel’s Hat Shop in Xenia did a wonderful business with pre-made hats for sale or she would design a special hat for a customer. Gentlemen wore felt hats during the winter months and switched to straw hats for the summer and removed the hat when entering a building.

For many years, the front porch was a gathering place for the entire family and the neighbors as well. Those who would go for a stroll in the evening would be invited to sit on the neighbor’s porch for a while to discuss events of the day. This was a good place for parents to keep an eye on the kids as they chased lightening bugs or played hide and seek.

Most churches were not air-conditioned, so cardboard fans with handles were often placed in each pew, sometimes with compliments of the local mortuary.

If you went for a drive in the country on a Sunday afternoon, it was with all the car windows open for ventilation.

Summer in the city was always full of adventure.

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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.