Chuck Brooks: Fond memories of mid-'60s summers
I am sure summer today for kids in their pre-teen years brings many options by which to fill each and every day. However, for my friends and me, summer in the early to mid-'60s brought with it two realities. The first was simply no school, which meant no homework. You have any idea how brutal homework could be for a fourth-grader in the '60s! The second reality was far more fun. We waited for the summer parks program to begin. This program provided new memories for all of us to reminisce about years later.
Just down the street from where I grew up was a location known as Tahoe Park; it still whisks me back to the '60s if I as much as drive into its parking lot. It's on Beaver Dam Lake and comes complete with boat-docking facilities and a warming house. In the winter months, it was a location where kids and adults could skate. The summer months, however, provided the most enjoyable experiences. The summer park program was a responsibility of the city, and it helped to keep us busy with all sorts of constructive activities. I suspect the parents were grateful for this program all those years because it gave children a safe place to reside in the daytime.
To my recollection, there had to be at least six parks in our town that were supervised by two "adults." They were usually people just out of high school. These two adults were, in the eyes of many of the kids, gods and goddesses. They were usually one guy and one girl. I loved whoever happened to be our park directors each and every summer. I believe they reported at 9 in the morning, went to lunch at noon and returned at 1 p.m. and stayed until 3 p.m. They were there to keep us busy, keep us safe, teach us skills, and help us learn social mores in the process.
One way we stayed busy was to play games. Simple board games. Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Mill, and Chess. We played all sorts of card games. If you were fortunate enough to actually play against one of the playground directors, you had found yourself a little slice of heaven.
We played kickball. Do kids still play kickball or have a clue what it was? That big reddish-brown
bouncy ball. We'd play on the baseball diamond, and the game resembled baseball, but we used our
feet to kick the ball and then ran the bases. It was a blast!
There were trips planned for the entire park program throughout the summer, such as going to a Brewers game, or to the Milwaukee Zoo, or an overnighter at a local county campgrounds. The one many of us anticipated each year was the trip to Dandelion Park. It was a smaller version of Valley Fair. They had a wooden rollercoaster that was the highlight of the visit. We'd go on it numerous times in the course of the day. It was located about an hour from home.
For three years, my older brother was a playground director. He never was assigned to Tahoe Park. I remember several of Tahoe's directors. The one pair I remember best was for good reason. I was around 13 or 14. Their names were Jim and Raetta. At that age, I was playing the organ at our church for Sunday Masses. It happened Jim and Raetta were dating, and they were planning their marriage. They asked me if I would play the organ for their special day. I had never played for anything more than Mass. I was pumped when asked, but I was terrified. On the day of the wedding, I was alone in the choir loft. I hit several keys incorrectly, and I was horrified. I remember crying as I headed down to congratulate them in the church's foyer. I felt I had ruined their day. They consoled me, trying to convince me I had done a marvelous job. They were good people, and they're still alive and married today. I still shudder when I think of those wrong notes!
The other annual event that came at the end of summer with the parks' program was the All-Parks Olympics. Each park would have qualifying competitions. The winners from one park would then compete against the winners in all the other parks in each category. The goal was, of course, to win bragging rights for your park. At day's end, the city brought a truckload of watermelons, and we all ate as much as we could. It was a grand conclusion to a wonderful summer.
That's how we spent our summers growing up. Not bad. I only hope kids today will have their own set of fond memories in 50 years as well. To not would be a crime. With all the social media at their fingertips, I'm somewhat skeptical. Personal interaction seems to be at a low.
The "Back-To-School" displays are up already. I quietly smile. Just sayin'. See ya next week!