The Old Paths: Summers gone by

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

We passed through that thin veil that separates spring from summer this week. Most barely noticed the transition since the trees donned their summer-green apparel many weeks ago and this drought reeks of late July. Still, technically it was spring up until this past Monday evening at 6:34 p.m. With the dogwoods now just another green tree and the lilacs merely a memory, who knew?

Be that as it may, it is now officially “The Summer of 2016.” Summer is the season that escorts me down the old paths more than any other. My theory is that summer is generally the most carefree time of the year, so perhaps we long for that feeling for the rest of our lives.

Don’t you remember what it felt like to be dismissed from school in June? That long, hot summer seemed to stretch ahead of us like an unending road to the horizon. We realized that a new school year was just over that horizon, but for that present moment, all we knew is that we were FREE!

For me, that freedom meant I could read all the pleasure books I wanted from the library bookmobile when it came around each week—no more assigned reading for a grade. It meant I could stay up late to watch Monday Night Baseball without worrying about getting up in time to catch the bus. It meant I could hang out at the softball field on weekends, maybe walking down to the Magic Market with friends if Mama and Daddy would let me.

Freedom meant staying up to hear every bit of Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top 40 on Sunday night on my transistor radio in case I had missed it that afternoon. It meant picking blackberries in Grandpa’s fields and blueberries up at my friend Ruby’s house. It meant running around the yard catching lightning bugs or playing tag in the dark with the children of the friends who would come to visit Mama and Daddy.

Summer also brought obligations that I didn’t have in other seasons. Who else remembers getting up early on Saturdays—to go to the tobacco field, not school? But there were perks, too. We earned money to put aside for cool clothes when the “Back to School” sales sizzled in August. But that seemed so far off, so we used a little of our “baccer” money for that next trip to Roses at Northside Shopping Center to buy The Jackson Five’s latest single or maybe that new record by The Osmonds.

And the tobacco field brought other joys, too. In the early years, I slept wrapped in a blanket near the barn while the women strung stick after stick of “King Tobacco.” Then I was big enough to catch a ride on the slide when

the tractor pulled it back to the barn or back to the field where the sweaty, grimy primers waited. And even when I was of an age to have to toil alongside the other women at the barn, there was always at least one of those sweaty, grimy, teenage primers who was cute enough to catch my eye. That made my pack of nabs and Coke in a bottle even more enjoyable. And if the farmer provided an oatmeal cookie to boot, well, boy howdy, that was a primetime Saturday!

I sometimes feel sorry for children today. Many of them still have to be awakened early and rushed off to the daycare or babysitter. With the woes of trying to make ends meet in this more expensive world, most families are forced to be two-income families. Even many grandparents are still working, thanks to the threat of an unpredictable future for Social Security.

So I treasure the memories of being able to sleep in on summer mornings, unless the suckers or weeds in the tobacco field demanded my presence. And I had the added security of knowing my Grandpa and Grandma Bray were always going to be there when I rode my bike down to their house. Unless Grandpa was gone to Rural Hall to take the eggs for processing, he and Grandma were usually at home for me to hang out with.

Grandparents of that era were very different from those of today. I knew Grandma would be in a green-and-white-webbed lawn chair, stringing beans, shelling peas or shucking corn. She wasn’t getting her nails done or shopping at the Mall. She might even have time to play a game of Chinese Checkers with me if I begged real hard. Grandpa wasn’t on the golf course or out to eat at K & W. He was working up at the chicken houses or puttering around the fields and garden. And he could always stop to call out, with a smile in his deep voice, “Well, there’s my Doodlebug!”

(I don’t mean any harm to modern grandparents. For example, I am thrilled my daddy enjoys his weekly golf games; I look forward to seeing if he won the Senior Bunny Hop down at Riverview in Pine Hall. I am merely pointing out how times have changed.)

Besides, the grandkids these days are probably too busy to ride their bikes down to Grandpa and Grandma’s anyway. There are always camps and travel ball and club activities and social media and video games. Who’s got time to play Bingo with Grandma when your friends keep texting? And it’s hard to take selfies for Snapchat and ride the tractor with Grandpa at the same time. Sometimes I wish I could make it through one family movie without kids scrolling down their phone screens while insisting they are watching the flick.

So as I celebrate the first week of summer, pardon me if I swaddle myself in memories of what summer used to be like… out to the diving board at Hanging Rock with the cousins, cheering on our church softball team at DeHart Field, playing house or “Spy” in the woods with the neighbor kids, lying in the floor to read my newest mystery book in front of the box fan, making homemade ice-cream down in Grandpa’s yard.

I’ll get back to you on Facebook when I’m done…..

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

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