Growing up “flat dab” in the middle of Georgia, summer sizzled under a blazing hot sun that parched the grass and the parts of our skin that weren’t properly covered. The break from school seemed to last much longer than the summers of today. It felt so long that many times I wondered if I would even recognize fellow classmates when I returned to school in the fall.
The water hose was our oasis and we drank from it without hesitation. When we couldn’t bear the heat while playing outside, we hosed ourselves down under the waterfall the hose made when a sweaty thumb partially blocked the opening causing the water to spray.
From sunrise to sunset, we entertained ourselves doing just about anything our minds could imagine. When we tired of one activity, we shifted to another. Wherever our feet failed to take us, our inexpensive bicycles would. I can still see both wheels spinning as we leaped off our bikes leaving them to fall behind us.
Sweat covered our bodies like raindrops, rolling into our eyes causing them to sting. Our shorts and T-shirts tried to absorb our sweat like a sponge, but they failed more times than they won. We knew we had to strip down at the back door before coming in the house for supper. Dirt never hurt us and it magically washed away in the suds of a washing machine.
After a bath, we were squeaky clean and worn out from our day of fun. A good night’s sleep always refilled our gas tanks and when morning arrived, we were back at it again. Each day was an exciting adventure and I am blessed to remember a few of our escapades until this day.
There was only one thing that summer brought that I hated — fresh peas and other produce from someone’s garden or from our local farmers market. Mother never warned us of produce day because she knew we would mysteriously fall ill, hiding under the covers in our bed. It would take more than bed linens to divert Mother’s plan for “putting up” vegetables for later consumption. She was a Southern woman and that’s what they did — but not without a little help from their kids!
Bushel baskets lined the aisles of the farmers market, which was only a short drive away. While Mother carefully looked over and sized up the produce, my sister and I would dart between the piles of corn, squash, tomatoes and anything else a Southern garden could yield. The trip back home seemed slow because we were packed in among the sacks of produce like peas in a pod. But our dread had only begun — we knew what was ahead.
Any bowl that was one step from being thrown away was saved specifically for pea shelling and passed out to each of us along with a stiff paper bag from Piggly Wiggly. We sat in rickety chairs on the porch and proceeded to shell peas. Oh, how I hated doing it.
Mother was an expert pea-sheller and kept us on track by periodically examining our bowls of peas and bags of shells. I always tried to sneak a few pea pods under some of the shells in my paper bag but Mother could sniff them out like a hound dog.
“Mark, you better check under those hulls. You missed a few,” she would say.
Besides plastic freezer bags full of freshly blanched peas, we were also left with sore fingers and green-stained fingernails. I forgot about all the trouble shelling was every time Mother cooked up a batch of peas or beans in a pressure cooker with an unhealthy slab of cured pork. It was one way Mother set an example of how working for our supper always made it taste a little better.
Gone are those days when our neighborhoods were our playgrounds. As long as we stayed in packs we could play to our hearts were content. I miss those days when time slowed down a bit and offered a world of opportunities.
I also miss those somewhat cooler summer nights when we said our prayers and closed our eyes with bellies full of fresh vegetables and cornbread. There are many times when I long to go back to the summers of my childhood. I’d even be willing to shell some peas to get there!
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/markcreates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.