If you took a vote of American schoolchildren, I’m sure that their choice for favorite month of the year would have to be June. The whole summer stretches out ahead, full of endless possibilities, and the next school year is barely a blip on the horizon. (Come to think of it, teachers probably feel the same way.)
For those who grew up in Plain City in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, summers were full and empty at the same time. There were far fewer organized activities then, and far more opportunities to make our own fun.
There were games with “the neighbor kids,” which included hide and seek, statues, fox and hounds and anything else we could come up with. One famous game of hide and seek almost turned serious when one participant disappeared. Fortunately, she was found asleep in the doghouse of a neighbor’s St. Bernard. Games of fox and hounds often covered the whole town. Some children were fortunate enough to have trees in their yards that could hold tree houses, and the making, improving and guarding of these took up many days.
Roller skating was always popular, as was riding one’s bike. Riding uptown to Ben Jones’ Drug Store for a root beer float, browsing his and Berry’s comic book collections, and buying a 10 cent bag of hot peanuts at the dime store made for a wonderful afternoon. Sometimes the bike rides became more ambitious, visiting friends in the country and even pedaling all the way to Marysville to their swimming pool before Plain City built its own.
Earning money in the summer could involve collecting pop bottles, bagging corn cobs and selling them for kindling, and helping farmers put up hay. Of course haying was considered exclusively a male domain, as was the clean-up process, which involved the Big Darby swimming hole at Butler Bridge and a cake of Ivory soap. (It had to be Ivory, naturally, because it floats.)
Food was a big part of our summers. Nearly everyone in town had some sort of garden, and the “liberating” of watermelons and other goodies was a fine art. When the Amish brought wagon loads of corn into the canning factory, any number of those good roasting ears could disappear the moment adult backs were turned.
A garden supper was a real treat — your own corn, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, beans and peas. And if you were very lucky, there might even be homemade ice cream for dessert made in a hand-cranked freezer. Remember how the littlest ones got to sit on top to help hold it down while dad cranked the handle? And the heavenly taste of the samples mom gave out scraped right off the paddles? And then there were the strawberries. Any way you served them, they were incredible.
Mothers might have had a slightly less rosy view of summer, as they ended up in the hot kitchen with vegetables cooking and canning jars boiling. It was a real blessing for them when canning home produce began to give way to freezing it.
There were some organized activities during the summer. Everyone’s church had a Vacation Bible School, usually in the mornings before it got hot. The Historical Society has an elaborate certificate awarded to one participant in the 1930s from a Bible School jointly sponsored by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches.
In 1948 or 1949 the first Little League teams were organized. There were only four teams to begin with — Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. Hugh Roby and Bix McKinley were two of the coaches. (Anyone remember who the other two were?)
There was also 4-H, which gave many of us our first lessons in cooking, sewing and raising plants and animals. Each club had regular meetings with different members demonstrating basic techniques. Showing one’s project at local fairs, and maybe even making it to the Ohio State Fair was the focus of the summer.
The fairs! For over 50 years Plain City had its own independent fair, with all the attractions you would find in the county fairs, if on a slightly smaller scale. The schools and 4-H clubs set up booths in the Youth Building; the Junior Fair gave youngsters a chance to demonstrate their skills; and there were rides and Sno-Cones and hot dogs and popcorn. The high school band played in the grandstand before the evening’s harness racing. (A certain bass drum player once forgot her mallet and ended up using her shoe.)
And in August came the State Fair. My father would tell how he, his mother and his aunt would board the train in Plain City in the 1920s, ride to the fairgrounds and spend the day, and then take the train home at night. We drove, once taking my best friend, our twin cousins and their little brother in addition to the four of us in our family. That was the year we met Governor Lausche in the sheep barn. When my friend’s uncle was fair manager, we got to sit in his box for the Roy Rogers show. Talk about heaven!
No video games, no smartphones, no Internet, no virtual reality goggles — however did we survive?
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.