I grew up in Pampa, in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle in the 1940s and early 1950s and my summers were full of fun. There were few rules or worries to govern my activities as I played with friends in our neighborhood. Our mothers turned us loose and trusted us to use good sense in our activities, and we had many adventures in those days when we created our own entertainment as we went along.
During my treasured summer vacations, I was allowed to roam freely with my friends as far as we could travel by ourselves. We played tag and chase in our neighborhood and built playhouses in backyards. We climbed up on the garage roof and jumped off with towels tied around our necks—playing “Superman.” Short sticks became our pistols and longer ones were rifles as we played cops and robbers, or cowboys and Indians, chasing each other down alleys, around lilac hedges and between garages. We skated for miles around and around our entire block, walked tall on stilts that Daddy built for all of us, and rode our bicycles far and wide.
Since we had the insatiable appetites of growing young people, we snacked from house to house, and foraged for food from yard to yard. We picked and ate Mustang grapes, plums, peaches, mulberries, and cherry tomatoes growing in nearby yards, but we usually left tart cherries on the trees. We enjoyed treats from Mrs. Robinson who lived on the corner. Mrs. Robinson had no children of her own, but she always had Saltines, apples, and cookies for us as we played throughout the neighborhood. We always made it a point to stop and pet her big bird dog as he slept in a corner of the kitchen where she always seemed to be cooking. Come to think of it, I never remember seeing that dog awake.
On hot afternoons with the dry wind blowing against us, we walked down to the creek and gathered tadpoles in glass pickle jars on our way to the local swimming pool. At the pool, we spent long, lazy afternoons dog paddling around in the water and doing belly busters into the deep end—until the polio scare came along. Our mothers thought that polio might come from the swimming water, so the pools were closed, and our swimming days ended for several years. One of our friends did have polio and spent the summer in Dallas in an iron lung. That really put the fear into all of us! After that, our mothers made us take naps, or at least long rests in the afternoon. That became our time to read on those long, hot afternoons of enforced inactivity.
In the cool of the summer mornings, I was allowed to walk to the library in the basement of the courthouse. I was always mesmerized by the walls lined with books on tall shelves in that musty-smelling place. My dad introduced me to the library and his rule was that I could only check out two books at a time and could not go back to the library until I had read both books. During our required summer rest periods, I loved to sit under our backyard plum tree, or lie on a blanket under the big elm trees in our yard to read. I finished the entire collection of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books during those summer reading times. Ah, summer freedom!
On a recent return visit to Pampa, I once again caught a whiff of the sulfuric odor from the natural gas wells and the vinegary sweet scent of the Celanese plant just outside of town. The familiar smells, the glowing refinery flares at night, and the soft staccato sound of those pump jack engines—pump, pump, pumping the oil and gas in the still of the hot summer nights—were just as I remembered them. The carbon black plant was still there but it no longer puffed out black clouds of soot and smoke that I remembered from my childhood days. As I took in the many sights, smells, and sounds in that small Panhandle oil town, I realized that it is a place of many memories for me.
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