My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
What's Fun in Summer?

This was written in 1997 and published in the July-August 1997 issue of The Montana Journal. Boredom was unheard of on the farm.


Just to be alive in the by gone days was fun in the summertime. Lying in the shade, chewing on a wisp of hay, looking up into a clear blue sky, a kid could always dream up something. I don't remember any whining, "Nothing to do around this place." We made dandelion necklaces, and hats out of rhubarb leaves. We could pull up our bloomers and wade in the sun-warmed waters of little O'Keefe Creek, and we kept all the cups messed up sipping water through green onion stems—until a big green worm crawled across the front of my dress, right under my chin!

Then, my auntie said, out of a clear sky, "How would you two (my smaller cousin and I) like to go fishing down the (Evaro) canyon?"

"All alone?"

"Sure," she said, "There's not enough water in the creek to drown a grasshopper." She helped us cut a willow pole and tie a hook on a twine string knowing, perhaps, that no sensible fish would be fooled into grabbing it.

"You're the oldest," she reminded me. "You look after Lillie and when the sun is straight overhead, it'll be time to eat your lunch." It was a lesson in self-reliance, I'm sure, because she hardly ever let us get farther than the end of her apron strings.

We fished and we played. We dangled our feet in the water while we ate our homemade bread and butter from a cloth salt sack.

We were back home in the heat of mid-afternoon and the family cat took greedy possession of our two undersized and over-ripe fish.

Other days we gorged ourselves on huckleberries, service berries, wild strawberries. We'd run half a mile to catch a ten-minute ride on the hay wagon, and work for an hour to catch a reluctant pony to ride to the neighbor's, fifteen minutes away.

An infrequent Sunday treat was homemade ice cream. We kids would stand around, spoon in hand, waiting to "lick the dasher."

And there was a place in Missoula called "the ice cream parlor." It was dark and cool inside, full of little round tables and chairs, and you could get a dish of ice cream, no matter how hot the weather, for just a dime! The neighbor kids said you could also get something called an ice cream Sunday, and I made up my small mind to have one—someday. When I finally managed it, I found that the word was spelled "sundae," and it was covered with a fruity-gooey something, a little taste of Heaven, all for fifteen cents!

Interspersed with these activities were special events. We prepared for days to attend a Sels Floto or Barnum and Bailey Circus or a "stampede," now called a rodeo, in Missoula. A ten-mile trip in Grandpa's new Model T was a bigger thrill than a hundred-mile trip to see a Fourth of July celebration.

And then there was the powwow. I was a very small child when my grandad took our family to see the Indians dance. Their encampment was a circle of teepees, each one accompanied by a buggy or wagon. The roof of the dancing area was covered with green boughs for shade.

There were no stick games as yet, but I was awe-struck by the bright costumes and the wild gyrations of the dancers. It was a custom at the time for the dancers to ask for white people to dance with them. The Indians then gave their partner a gift, and the partner was expected to give them something in return. My grandad had fallen arches and was obliged to ride horseback everywhere he went, so when an Indian lady asked him to dance he had to refuse her. She went away somewhat miffed, but was somewhat placated when he put a five dollar bill in her hand.

Later, and somewhat older, the kids rode horseback to school on the last day, then proceeded on to "the old swimmin' hole," usually the river. With the water still coming down off the snow banks, you'd better go in or they'd throw you in! Of course, this was all fun.

No matter how hot the weather, there were dances where we worked and perspired comparable to pitching hay. A date meant a movie or maybe a roller skating party and, if the boys felt rich enough after pooling their resources to buy gas for Dad's car, a stop at the Hamburger King, something new in Missoula where you could get a hamburger sandwich for fifteen cents. Yes, like today's youngsters, if we'd had to work as hard as we played, we'd protest to the high heavens, but still, just living was summertime—or any time—fun!