Karas, Joseph M.

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Summer Memories: Warm boyhood days rekindle enthusiasm for what heat brings

June 24, 2014 10:47 PM

By Joseph M. Karas Summer officially arrived a few days ago. I have to admit that I was dreading summer’s arrival and prepared to begin counting the days until the anticipated arrival of the cool crispness of autumn.

My house doesn’t have central air conditioning, and summers in Pittsburgh are often hot, sticky and extremely uncomfortable. I will walk out of my air-conditioned bedroom in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and as I enter the hallway, the heat and humidity will hit me like a discourteous slap in the face.

Mother Nature will taunt me by causing a jungle to grow in my small yard. I’ll fight a losing battle with her, using a lawn mower and weed whacker as my weapons of choice. Then I’ll add to the work by planting a small garden, only to be disappointed when the weeds overtake the flowers and vegetables despite my efforts to keep them at bay.

Daylight pours into my window at 5 a.m. to disrupt my dreams. If I can make it to 6:30, I consider it to be a good night’s sleep.

I was thinking about my dislike of summer this morning and wondering when this transition occurred. When I was growing up in West Mifflin, summer was my favorite season. School was out, and those long, hot summer days beckoned to me. They were so full of possibilities.

Back then I could sleep till 9 or 10, even with the translucent curtains my mother hung in my bedroom. Back then it was fun to get up really early once in a while to enjoy the cool and quiet of the morning.

On hot summer days, I’d ramble in the woods near my home. One of my favorite spots in those woods was a spring that formed a small pool. Many times my friends and I tried to dam up the pool to create a swimming hole, but someone would always seem to tear down our makeshift structure before the water got deep enough for anything more than wading.

Other days, I’d grab one of my brothers to play home run derby with a Wiffle ball and bat. I learned to throw a deceptively slow pitch that, when it was working, guaranteed a swing and a miss. When it wasn’t working, my brother would hit it a mile. When we tired of Wiffle ball, we might just lie in the grass watching the fluffy, white clouds float across the sky to the distant roar of a neighbor’s lawn mower or the occasional humming of an airplane heading toward the county airport.

There were chores, of course, but for most of those hot summer days, we were left to our own devices. On days too hot to do anything else, I’d spend hours lying on the glider on our front porch engrossed in a good book from the local library. We never had air conditioning to cool our house or our car. We just slowed down.

On hot, humid nights my father would bring out the hose and sprinkle my brothers and me as an excuse to water the lawn. Then when it got dark, we’d play games under the street light in front of our house with other kids from the neighborhood while my parents sat on the front porch talking quietly. We played Mother May I, tag, hide and seek, release and various other games passed down from previous generations of kids.

A few times each summer, we would pack up the station wagon and go on an all-day picnic to a nearby state park. There we’d swim, fish, throw Frisbees and eat a delicious meal of hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans. Mom would bring a jug filled with Kool-Aid for the kids, and Dad would sneak a few beers when the coast was clear of park rangers. As dusk was approaching, we would carry everything back to the car and head home.

As I thought about the lazy, hazy summer days of my boyhood, I wondered if I could recapture my youthful love of this season. So rather than lament the coming heat and humidity, I decided that I should learn a lesson from the memories of my youth.

I’ve now resolved to begin enjoying summer once again. I probably won’t be able to persuade my neighbors to play hide and seek under the street lights of Carrick, but there is plenty else to appreciate during the warm days and nights ahead.

Joseph M. Karas of Carrick, a retired attorney, can be reached at joseph.karas@hotmail.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes “Summer Memories” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

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