Driving home from work for lunch I noticed a billboard for the county 4-H fair. How can it be that time already? How can summer be almost over when it just began? Is it a phenomenon of aging that time seems to move faster and faster?
When I was a child, we could not wait for school to be out. When I was very small, the end of school meant the opening of Lancaster’s Pool, our neighborhood swimming hole. School dismissed before Memorial Day, and mornings and evenings were still cool as days soon heated up.
June meant 4-H projects and club meetings, and summer vacations to Civil War battlefields and museums and national parks.
Weekends I often spent at the farm with my grandparents. Grammy had a huge garden and put up beans. I can’t say I was ever enamored with using a hoe, though I did enjoy snapping beans.
If I had an orthodontic appointment in Fort Wayne, my grandfather often took me. He had an office in Fort Wayne for his farm management business. On the way back from the dentist, we might stop to talk to four or five farmers and inevitably arrive home later for dinner. My grandfather often incurred the wrath of my grandmother, but enjoyed the undying respect of his customers.
I watched him closely as he reached his big hand out to shake hands with his customers. He was never a hugger, but taught my brother and me the proper way to shake hands and greet people. He asked his customers questions and stepped back from them and listened. He had an easy way about him, an engaging smile that drew you in and made you his friend for life. We often stood outside in a farmer’s lane for an hour, Grandpa talking and laughing and listening to what was happening in our community.
While my grandmother often was frustrated with him, how could she be mad at him? He might come home with a diamond ring in his pocket or a bag of fresh Hoosier Big Boy tomatoes.
By the end of July, county fair time arrived. Dad worked with the livestock in the barns — my brother and I participated in 4-H (though one of us much more successfully than the other). Mom worked in the Women’s Building serving lunch. I can close my eyes and remember exactly what the hot beef sandwiches from the fair tasted like, accompanied by weak lemonade and pies homemade by the women in the Extension Homemakers clubs.
Sometime during my childhood, the Board of Health determined that homemade pies could no longer be served. Life as I knew it ceased to exist, but at least we had a new concession stand in the new barns (build in the late 1960s) with a milkshake machine.
About the beginning of August, the rumbles of school started. We just weren’t ready. There was still so much to do, a trip to the State Fair, more trips to the farm, more weekend trips to the lake. But we liked the trip downtown to Baxter’s Dime Store to paw through all the school supplies. Nothing felt better than getting that new big box of Crayola Crayons — the 64-count box with the sharpener. And folders. And new, fat pencils. And filler paper.
Labor Day represented the last of summer, still time to make homemade ice cream the old-fashioned way, with raw eggs and junket. My family had an electric freezer, but the clips that held the lid down broke soon after we got it as a gift. For thirty years, my dad made ice cream with one foot on the freezer, a memory my son shares. Broken lid or not, the creamy, rich vanilla ice cream— even with a few lumps of briny rock salt included — tasted like summer, cool, lovely and fleeting.