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Many of us North Carolinians remember “The Tar Heel Toast,” adopted by the N.C. General Assembly in 1957. The first stanza of the toast is the most familiar and was committed to memory by many of us as young people in the past.
The second line, “The summer land where the sun doth shine,” comes to mind now that school is out and our children and youth are entering a time of rest, recreation, vacations and work for many. Whatever activities consume the summer days, many of them will be outdoors.
Looking back to my generation’s summer days and outdoor activities that defined much of our summer, the memories are sweet and worth remembering, memories of freedom, creative outdoor play with neighbors and friends, a good bit of work and open space in the country where the land and elements provided almost unlimited opportunities for entertainment and where we were positively infused with joy of our summer lives.
My generation of country children found enough of the land’s entertainment if we were willing to look for it. All that was required was a gaggle of children — siblings, neighbors, friends, cousins or any combination — who were looking for entertainment. Sometimes two or three could accomplish great country-time entertainment, and, of course, one child could find things to do alone.
A given for most country children was going barefooted from May until September. After school was out, we shed those shoes for a good part of our time. Most of us were not squeamish about going barefooted, either. We learned quickly to be careful and to enjoy the varied sensations of feet coming into contact with the elements. Green grass and moss under bare feet were too good to be true, and dangling feet in the shallows of a pond or walking right through standing water after a summer rain was on our agenda.
We climbed trees, walked to the store, walked down paths and sometimes walked bravely through the chicken yard sans shoes. We did, however, put on shoes before we went uptown on Saturday or to church on Sunday.
Outdoor fun included looking for doodlebugs, tying a string to a June bug and watching it struggle to fly away and capturing caterpillars in fruit jars for a day, only to let them go near dark. We would spend time on the grass looking for four-leaf-clover and dreaming of the good luck that might come our way.
Rare trips to the beach gave us sunshine aplenty, and we used a concoction of baby oil and iodine to make our tan beautiful. We did not have sunscreen products, nor were we as aware of the dangers of too much sun back then. We just wanted a good tan, and our mothers were glad for us to get enough vitamin D.
More often, we girls would sunbathe right in the yard, just like the people we saw in magazines. We would lie on our back for 15 minutes, turn over for 15 and alternate until we had gotten enough sun for a day without blistering. Some of us wanted one of those big, fluffy beach towels, but we mostly had to use one of the family towels from the linen closet.
Sometimes before we took sunbaths, we might wash our hair, roll it in curlers and use sunbathing time for hair drying, since most of us did not have hair dryers back then.
Between those rare trips to the beach, we put our bathing suits on and took turns running through the sprinkler to cool off, and a trip to the swimming pool in town on Sunday afternoons was a highlight of the week.
Another memorable summertime-sunshine activity was going to the pond, where we not only worked on our fishing skills year after year, but also practiced skipping rocks across the pond, keeping a record of who could get the most skips. With the still pond, the sun overhead, a couple of people as an audience, a rock in hand and the proper position for skipping, one could seize the day and store up tall tales to share at the supper table.
When we tired of fishing and rock-skipping, we might cruse around the pond on an inner tube if we were not too afraid of snakes.
Working in the sun included cropping tobacco in the blazing sun (my summertime tobacco work was thankfully under the shelter), washing the car (we did not use car washes much back then), cutting grass with a push mower and raking up the cuttings to be taken to a compost pile (electric mowers came along later, but some of us were terrified of running over the cord with the mower), hanging out clothes to be dried in the sun (we knew no one who had a dryer), picking vegetables and numerous other chores that parents and grandparents thought of so that we children could make a contribution to the family life.
Our parents and grandparents assured us that working in the hot sun wouldn’t hurt us, and we would be glad we knew how to work once we were grown.
Sunny days took us outside to play or work regularly, and there was always a new adventure, a new game or a way to reinvent an old one to spend our summer days so that we were truly infused with summer fun and sun.
Young people might not get out in the sun as much as today as they did earlier, yet we still live in the “summer land,” and the sun still “doth shine.”
Sanda Baucom Hight is retired from Wilson County Schools after serving as an English teacher and is currently a substitute teacher in Wilson County. Her column focuses on the charm of home, school and country life. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.