When Southern summers were cool

July 20, 2019


A version of this story may be found in Exploding Hushpuppies - More Stories from Home.

There was a time when we all loved Southern summers. They weren’t so hot or humid, they weren’t miserable at all. But what was once our favorite time of year has turned into the season of complaints. 

If you stop and stare at a rain puddle in the yard long enough, you can almost remember what your feet felt like when you’d splash in the mud after a rainstorm. You can recall riding bikes and eating popsicles on days when the heat never bothered us. The cold movie theatre would show Batman and Pete’s Dragon for free and we’d drink cherry Slushies till our tongues were frozen and made us talk funny. 

We’d catch lightning bugs and small toads for entertainment better than any video game. Our parents would take us to family reunions where we’d eat chicken and dumplings and deviled eggs and try to poke our fingers into 15 different cakes. 

We’d spend a week with our grandparents and were allowed to play in the creek, pick corn and throw watermelon rinds to the cows. No one worried about us riding in the back of pick-up trucks and the wind would blow through our sticky hair while we laughed and sang with our cousins. 

Vacation Bible School was the only time in the summer we had to wake up early. We’d come home with cheeks stained with purple Kool-Aid and our fingers sticky from gluing popsicle sticks to a milk carton. Our hearts were full of songs about Jesus and we never once mentioned the temperature outside.

But now we say it’s hotter than new love and there’s no way we can even walk to the mailbox. We buy our tomatoes from the farmer’s market because we can’t possibly make a garden ourselves in this heat. We tell our children to stay inside and watch movies or play video games because obviously the heat is too much for them. They need to be driven to friend’s houses because a bike ride on a day like today would certainly kill them. 

But sometimes, around the end of July, we’ll hear a song on the radio and it reminds us of a day at the beach with sandwiches and icy bottles of Cokes. For a split second, we recall being in love with Southern summers. A breeze blowing against our face reminds us of singing into a rotary fan to make robot voices and the chime of our seatbelt makes us look over our shoulder for the ice cream truck. 

Maybe it’s not the heat we hate, but instead, it’s the lack of carefree days that drives us crazy. When childhood days were sweltering, we’d run through a sprinkler. Now, we have to climb in the hot car with scalding seats and go to work. 

Our homemade ice cream freezers have been replaced with Insta-Pots and our Slip ‘N Slides have been traded for phones loaded with mindless games. It’s not the heat or humidity. It’s not the frizzy hair or crowds at the beach. What makes us dread summers now is that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy them. Southern summers were made for playing. They were given to us as a little treat for enduring the rest of the serious year.  Summertime was created for children and those who are still young at heart. 

This story first appeared on AL.com

  • Your writing brings such joy. I save the stories to read when I’m stressed. Right now I’m sitting in the ER with Mom. Thanks for the few minutes of relief.

    • Thank you so much. I’m so sorry you are under stress right now and pray everything goes well.

  • Paula Hartman says:

    Oh, how I loved this post! It brought back wonderful carefree Summer Memories that I lovingly spent with my Granny each and every Summer in West Tennessee. I could hardly wait to get to her home to enjoy her all Summer! I loved every minute of it! I remember hearing the sweet chime of the windchimes that she had outside. I loved helping her hang up the laundry on the clothesline. It always seemed to me that the sheets that had dried in the hot Summer sun, seemed to make going to sleep on them that night more cozy, and restful. I enjoyed catching lighting bugs, amazed at seeing toads coming out to enjoy the “cooler” nighttime air on Granny’s patio, shucking corn, and helping my Granny shell peas in her large enamel bowl. Oh, how I loved those sweet Summers spent with my Granny. Now that I am an adult, and my Granny has gone Home to be with the Lord twenty-four years ago; I still yearn for those sweet simple times spent with my Granny, who I love so much. I thank God for blessing me to grow up experiencing, loving, and enjoying those times that I now hold dear to my heart and cherish those Good Ol’ Summer Time Memories. Thank you for this post.

    • Thank you so much Paula for sharing your memories with me. I agree that sheets dried on the line smell dreamy and so different than the hot dryer inside! I love your descriptions and Tennessee is one of the most beautiful states in the country!

      • Paula Hartman says:

        You’re very welcome, and thank you again for this lovely post.

  • Margaret Neely says:

    Loved those days. We didn’t have air conditioning, but a big fan in the attic that sucked the hot air from the house. My Dad had a garden and I wanted a croquet set, so he set me up with a watermelon stand in our front yard to make the money to buy it. We had neighbor kids everyday at our house wanting to play!

    • Oh! A Watermelon stand is much better than lemonade. I’m sure you were wealthy by the end of the day and had that croquet set!

    • I think you have some pretty cute grands you could run through the sprinklers with now!
      Thanks for reading Emily.

  • Ahhh, the good old days! It’s so sad that the kids all go to day camps everyday because their parents either have to work or can’t entertain them…mine used to entertain themselves and make lemonade stands and play with neighborhood friends…we have a rule at the beach house, no ipads! I am so sick of them walking around with their faces in those things all day!! I’m such an old grandma!!! Ok, nothing like a good vent, thanks Leslie Anne 🙂

    • Jena, you’ve won my heart (again) with your no ipad rule. Does that go for phones as well? One set of grandparents had no TV at all, and we had the best time at their house just wandering through the woods.

      Good for you!

  • Loved reading this post & remembering childhood summers in west Tn. I also spent some summers in Loxley AL & Rainsville AL (following the potato crop.) I lived in a neighborhood with other kids my age & it was magical. Our mamas didn’t work & I remember eating fresh vegetables at lunch, clothes drying on the line, our house being so clean “you could eat off the floor.” We’d walk or ride our bikes to the corner grocery store for ice cream & popsicles. We’d eat watermelons in the backyard under a big ole pecan tree. We’d shoot basketballs till we were called in for supper & a bath. Ohhhhh, those were wonderful times!

    • What great summers you had. And the fresh vegetables for lunch! Ahhh. Perfect.

  • Oh the wonderful memories of growing up in Florida in the 50’s and 60’s. Days spent out side in the ditch or tree house. Games played on the dirt side street and riding bikes up that same street to the 7-11 for an Icee. Running behind the “spray truck” as it fogged the neighborhood for mosquitos. Nights at the softball field watching church league games. Trips to Silver Springs or our uncle’s lake house in Orlando. And the best days, going to the beach, and even better renting a beach house for a week. I honestly don’t remember spending much time indoors at all. We were told to be home when Mom turned the porch light on.

    My kids are grown now, but I still hate that the school year starts so early. Having to get on the school bus in August in Houston has to be brutally hot and humid! At least the schools are conditioned! My high school on the east coast of Florida was not and we survived just fine. Probably because we had spent all summer outside.

    One of your best columns yet, Leslie Anne!

    • Thanks Leigh. My dorm room in Tallahassee wasn’t air conditioned, and it was the 80’s! Good gosh almight, we were hot. I’m with you on the school schedule beginning too early. Such a shame for several different reasons. Thanks for reading Leigh!

  • Yes, I remember Mom telling us to go play outside then she firmly locked the door behind us. Nothing like summers in Mobile. BTW, what in the world were you making with milk cartons and popsicle sticks?! I have to know!

    • The craft could have been several things. It was the basic recipe for the beginnings of a little church, a hut in the jungle where missionaries lived, a bank to save our change to bring to the missionaries, a boat where Jesus calmed the storm, Moses’ baby basket floating down the river, Noah’s Ark . . . get it? Don’t get me started on pipe cleaner crafts!!!!

  • Leslie Anne, I adore this post. It brings back so many sweet memories of growing up right here in Alabama. We played outside every day during summer, and I never noticed it was hot. Our son, who is now 33, played outside, and never sat in the house watching TV or playing video games. He enjoyed his childhood just as his dad and I did!

    • And I’ll bet you are all well-read and creative because of your time outside and not draining your brains on TV!
      Play on!

  • Arlene Cocke says:

    Loved this article, Ms. Leslie, however, being a Yankee, Midwesterner, Summers In the South were not so different than Indiana! Waded in the puddles after a heavy rain, rode our bikes, belonged to the Knot Hole Club at the local pool, loved Kool Aid and Hot dogs, lightning bugs, did you ever play splits with an ice pick? That would have been the most dangerous of our fun in the sun! Dad would take us for a Roit Beer and fill up a cone container to take home! All the memories all so innocent, all so different now. So happy to be 76 and still remembering. Children just have to be children, carefree and loved! They will be adults soon enough!

    • Hey there Arlene. But it’s the Southern humidity that makes the difference! It makes grown men cry and women go crazy. I never played with ice picks except for poking extra holes in my belts because I was so skinny. (those were the days). Sounds dangerously fun.

  • Amen! I have often thought about what I liked best about my childhood summers. It was the carefree days without supervision or suggestions and with few conveniences to buffer the heat.

  • I loved everything about this article! It is so true. We just rush away what should be the downtime of the year. Schools start so early too. We need to embrace the down time, but I do think people are too busy these days. When I taught, I lived for summers and all the things we could do. Mommies are rushing off to work and frazzled. I remember one year when our district was going back and forth on the school start time and it ended up being a later August start. I blew off a day when I would have normally been already back in my classroom worrying away. I took the kids to the beach and we had an absolute blast. It was one of the beautiful days when the Gulf was completely smooth. We actually got in it which is a real rarity for me!!!!!!! I don’t remember any preplanning days as being special, but I do remember the fun day at the beach with the kids that year and was grateful for one more day in the sun.
    And I am sure I was hot as a kid playing outside, but I don’t remember ever complaining about it. You just came in and got some Kool Aid and back out you went:)

    • Oh, the school schedule! It really is too early. Baldwin Co. Alabama has pushed it back a week or so over the last few years to encourage one last weekend at the beach (tax $$$) from the tourists. This also allows the teens who work at the beach to earn a little more money as well. Your memory at the beach is wonderful.

  • Julia Crow says:

    What great memories of those days when it may of been hotter than blue blazes, but we didn’t notice or care! Happy, happy Summer!

    • There were other things to worry about more than the heat, like who was going to make a lemonade stand or whose Mom had ice cream in the freezer! Thanks Julia!

  • I love this post Leslie! It brought back so many memories of summer in the south…the good old days, wouldn’t it be great if we could go back?

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