My favorite summer month is here…August. I enjoy August because it is the penultimate month to the end of summer…September. I swear that I can feel a hint of autumn in August. For instance, this morning it is 72 degrees rather than 82. We have been experiencing several 90+ degree days with heat factors well over 100. August in the 1960’s was a pleasant time for me. I basically had 2 more weeks of carefree hours to wile away…and then it was either back to school or at least the preparation for returning to the classroom…took the majority of my last days of freedom. We stepped up our Pounds Hollow swimming forays to 4 or 5 days a week rather than 2. Pounds Hollow was nirvana from the relentless heat of hot and humid Southern Illinois. The cool waters of the Hollow soothed our souls and calmed our minds. It also was a lot of fun to float all over the lake and go beyond the guide rope set to remind all that once crossed…you are on your own. I was never a strong swimmer…but brother could I ever float. The sound of silence was peaceful and serene. The impression of being alone was immersive in the deep water where I neither could touch bottom but indeed had no idea of how far down that the floor of the lake was. The immeasurable water and my weak swimming skills…coupled with the fact that every now and then I could not seem to make floating on water work for me…brought a true excitement to the endeavor. When I would dog paddle for a season I would notice that my family and friends as well as the other swimmers…that were on the right side of the rope…were very small and difficult to distinguish who they were.
Buying new school clothes was a neat experience. Mom and I would travel to P.N. Hirsch Department store and look for all that I would need for the upcoming school year. I did not like blue jeans…so I did not wear any. I was a slacks person…and in the minority in that affection. I wore shirts with tails that were designed to tuck into your trousers. If you shirt tail was hanging outside off your pants…the teacher or the principal would tell you to go the rest room and tuck your shirt in. My hair had to be combed. I carried a comb in my pocket for this important purpose. If you wore a hat…and most of us did…you had to remove it when you entered the classroom. My friend, Jackie Brooks, began first grade at the same time that I did. For the first several days he forgot to remove his hat. When he would sit down at his desk the teacher would say to him, ‘Jackie, do not wear your hat in the house.’ He then would get up from his desk and take his hat to the cloak room.
Purchasing the notebooks and pencils and pencil sharpeners and all that would be necessary for a productive school year was exciting for me…for about the first week. After the first week of school…that was still in the summer…all I could think of was how hot it was in the classrooms. Schools did not have air conditioning…they had fold in windows. Opening windows, even large windows, when there is no breeze and placing a box fan in front of them is akin to having a gas forced air furnace blow hot air on you. I recall going to the principal’s office and it felt like walking into a refrigerator. I thought, ‘What is this?’ This was my first lesson in the inequality of life.
One of my greatest late summer and early school days pleasures was the mini-holiday we took to drive all of the way from Eldorado, Illinois to DuQuoin, Illinois…to attend one night of the Illinois State Fair. Now Illinois has 2 State Fairs and Southern Illinois is the lesser noted of the two. The Big Fair…or the Real Fair is held in Champaign, Illinois and is a 3 hour drive from Eldorado. My stepfather, Earl, said that the Champaign State Fair had nothing on the DuQuoin State Fair…and that an hour drive to get there was all that he was willing to do. The famous comedian and movie star, Bob Hope, often performed at the DuQuoin Fair…but I never got to see him…as the admission tickets were too expensive. The premier harness racing of the nation was held at DuQuoin, the Hambletonian. I loved what was called in those days…the freak shows. There was the headless woman and the man who transformed into a gorilla…before your eyes. We walked by a musical performance where women were dancing in their bathing suits and an African American man invited the pedestrians into the performance…if they wanted to see more… I mentioned to mom that the music was very nice…and she grabbed my hand tightly…and picked up her step. Often we would take our holiday to DuQuoin on Labor Day, which is the last day of the fair. Since we did not arrive until mid afternoon I wanted to squeeze every ounce of fair/fun that was in the annual event. On more than one occasion I would step up to enjoy a carnival ride and a grizzled man or woman would tell me that the ride was closed as they were preparing to break-down the machines to travel to their next fair destination.
September, especially in the middle and end of the month, brought the promise of fall. The Halloween decorations on the bulletin boards in our school…reminded me that my favorite time of the year had finally arrived. Soon my October birthday would be here again…that my friend, Jackie and I shared…as well as a last name, and I would be another wonderful year older…and soon to be an adult…I was certain…