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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Until now my entire life had been one long summer vacation, and continued to be throughout the summer of 64. Mom’s routine started early in the morning when she would get up at 5:00 am and fix my Dad’s breakfast before he went to work around six. I remember waking to the smell of fresh perked coffee (Mr. Coffee wasn’t around yet) bacon, eggs, and toast. Some mornings it would be sausage and biscuits or something else, but always up early fixing breakfast. After Dad left for work she would have time to herself before she had to get ready to go to work, usually around 8:00 am.

I was always an early riser, even at a young age and I would get up early, and watch cartoons, or Jack La Lanne and his two white German Shepherds, Happy and Lucky, or Uncle Willie and Roscoe on the Sleepy Jeffers Show. Most days I would go to the flower shop with Mom, and my entire day was one of fun filled exploration and adventure. I would wander up and down Washington Street, going in and out of any shop or business that caught my interest. I made friends quickly with the many people working downtown, and soon everyone knew me and I knew them.

I never wore shoes in the summer and some of the sidewalks on the side streets were uneven, thus resulting in me having stubbed toes much of the time. Mom always knew when I had snuck across the street and went in the pool hall, because without shoes my feet would be filthy black all the way up to my ankles. (This was always different than normal street dirt.) I also stepped on a lot of bees, or little pieces of glass that required her immediate attention to remove stingers, glass slivers, and such.

Summer mornings were a good time to go to the city park where there were kids’ programs. We played games, made crafts, had cookies and kool-aid, or climbed on the old silver WW II cannon that sat in the center of the park. (One of the first things I did after moving back to Ravenswood this past summer was visit the park where I used to play. I couldn’t resist climbing to the top of the cannon and leaning over to look inside the barrel once more. I swear I saw the very same rocks I dropped down there all those years ago.) When I got bored at the park I would wander over to the swimming pool and watch the lifeguards sweeping the pool, or watch Mr. Hupp give swimming lessons.

Lunch time was a good time to go back to the shop. Mom would give me money, and I was allowed to go out to a restaurant to have my lunch, usually hamburger and French fries. Two of my favorite restaurants in downtown Ravenswood in the 60s were George’s Restaurant on Washington Street and Hupps Restaurant on Walnut Street; both served great meals and both had hamburgers and fries, and the best fresh made pies.

The swimming pool in Ravenswood opened at 1:00 pm, and I would always try to be the first in line so that I could be the first to jump in. Mom bought a season pass so I could spend every possible minute in the pool, and I was a true water dog. 1964 was the first year I was allowed to go to the big pool as long as I stayed in the shallow end. (I found out later she had made arrangements with friends to watch over me.) Right away, I watched other kids swimming, and I just started doing what they were doing until I had taught myself how to swim. I was happy with that for a while, but soon wanted to be able to go into the deep end and jump off the diving board. Before being allowed to do so I was required to demonstrate my swimming ability to the lifeguard, which meant I had to swim across the pool and back without stopping. I tried a couple of times, but I would get too tired before I could make it all the way back across. Being determined, I kept practicing for several hours over the next couple of days until I finally did it. The next time I reported to the lifeguard (Andy Hupp) that I was ready to try again, I swam it successfully! Filled with a sense of accomplishment, I could finally go in the deep end and jump off the diving board (except that after having just passed the swimming test I was too tired, lacking any energy at all to swim for the rest of that day!) But just like with all the other days, I stuck around until the pool closed at 5:00 pm. Then I would either walk the three blocks back to the flower shop, or Mom would pick me up on her way home from work. Usually I’d walk and she would be just about ready to leave by the time I got there.

Small town living offered a safe environment in which to grow up. Unlike today, children had many freedoms and room to explore on their own. Even though I ran up and down the streets there were people watching out for me. Had I been getting into trouble or doing anything unsafe my mother would have been informed and I would have had to answer for my actions.

When I wasn’t out running all over the town, I would spend time at the flower shop. Many times I would sit on a stool at the end of Mom’s work table and watch her design flowers. I would ask all kinds of five year old questions like what she was doing when she was putting together a floral arrangement, why was she doing it that way, what was that sticky stuff (It was florists’ clay) she was using, or any other hundreds of questions. She always took the time to patiently answer all of my questions. I liked spending time watching her work, and I was interested in how she arranged the flowers. It looked like something I could do too. Mom would give me some flowers, a container, a piece of foam, and then point me to a place to work, allowing me to play with the flowers. Usually within about a half an hour I would take my completed arrangement to show her. She would look at it, and point out the things I needed to do, or things I had missed, and send me back to fix it. When I returned again she would almost always tell me what a good job I had done, and tell me that it was good enough to sell! This made me believe that I could not only accomplish meeting my mother’s standards, but it excited me to think I could make money doing it as well! She would tell me how much to put on the price tag, and then have me place it in the display cooler in the front of the shop. I don’t know if she ever really sold any of those first arrangements I made, and it doesn’t really matter, because now looking back on the events of that time and what I learned from Mom, I now understand that to her those arrangements would have been priceless.

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