My family is amazing. I know I am beating a dead horse here, but it bears repeating. Growing up, I always had a friend and there was always something going on. Each season really brings a different set of memories.
Let’s start with Spring, it is my least favorite season — which is not saying a lot because I like all the seasons. So it is the last of my favorite seasons. Spring was a big time for cleaning at the Novak house. My parents loved the “spring cleaning” spirit and the kids, inevitably, were sucked in too. Early Spring was the worst because the snow would melt and the grass was wet and muddy. Dad never let us go on the lawn and we got in trouble more than once for breaking that rule. Not only could we not go on the lawn, but we had to pick up all the garbage and toys and sleds that were buried under a winters worth of snow. But, there is something about Spring air that is so refreshing and, if air can be, hopeful. Spring air holds a promise. After the first melt down, we unload the playhouse, where all our summer toys spent the winter. I liked this part. It meant we could ride bikes again. Dad usually spent one weekend during the spring fixing chains, tires, handle bars, and other random problems with our bikes. From then on, it was non stop adventures on our bikes. Most of springtime was spent re-bruising and re-scrapping our bodies as we skidded wildly out of control on loose gravel. It was great.
Springtime was also filled with jaunts to parks to fly kites, play games, and hang out. I remember going at night after my dad got home from work. We would eat dinner at about five and walk down to the park together. Dad and Mom were so patient with us as they helped us get the kites to fly or pushed us on the swings or just chased after us.
Sometimes, over Spring Break, we would travel. It meant all of us piling into a van and traveling to some exciting destination that Mom and Dad had carefully planned. One year, we went to Florida to watch the Twins during spring training. I remember this in particular, because I got sick that day. I don’t remember what I was sick from (I often got carsick, but it could have been the flu), but I remember feeling just awful about getting sick. My mom LOVES the Twins, and it is mostly due to her influence that I am such a big baseball (Twin specific) fan today. Anyway, I got sick and Mom took me out to the van to clean me up and change my clothes, which took her away from the game. I felt so bad. I remember her sighing, but, even though Dad offered, she was still the one to take me out and clean me up. Theresa got really mad about me getting sick too– mostly because I was out of clothes and had to wear hers. I think that might be the trip she left her glasses behind (Theresa lost her glasses a lot growing up).
Spring would melt into summer and, as soon as school let out for the year, it meant long days outside. Growing up, there was a local public pool by our house– near enough that we could bike over there. Our parents would buy a summer family pass and we would spend from after lunch until late afternoon there almost every day. The pool was set up into two different areas. There was the “kiddie” pool designated for babies (anyone under age seven, I think) and the “big kid” pool. I remember longing looking over the fence during my kiddie pool days, just waiting until I could join the big kids. It was a big deal. The big pool meant you had to go through the locker room and shower first, plus you had to tell them your season pass number, but, most importantly, it was time away from Mom’s watchful eye. Additionally, the big kids often got to ride their bikes over separately which meant sometimes they would stay longer and sometimes they got to go and the little kids didn’t. I loved going to the pool in the evening. It meant that Dad was coming with and, when I was still young, I got to go into the big pool with him. He would teach us how to swim and dive. It was fun. After swimming in the afternoon, we would come home and have wafer cookies (or whatever cookies were on hand) and glasses of koolaid in front of the TV. We did not watch a lot of TV, especially during the summer, and one of the main times we did was during our afternoon snack. I have so many memories from that pool. Unfortunately, the city couldn’t keep the pool. I don’t know why: maybe the insurance was too much or there were fewer people using it or they couldn’t keep up codes, but it closed.
Summer was also filled with trips to the library. Our local library had summer programming one morning every week during the summer and we went every year. Sometimes the programs were hosted at the high school and sometimes they were on the library lawn, but we were always there. The library shows were a part of the summer reading program designed to keep kids reading throughout the summer. My family went to the library once a week to check out new books. The older kids, and when I was old enough me too, would bike on their own if we couldn’t make it. I don’t really know how my mom did all the things she did. She would bring us to the pool, take us to the library, play with us at the park, and let us have more friends over than any other house on the block (let’s face it, if one of us had a friend over everyone else wanted one too and, just by the size of our family, that meant more friends than anyone else). She did all this while having a constant flow of small children to take care of. We were really lucky with where we lived; we could easily get to any place a kid could want to go.
During the summer afternoons, we would also play a lot of imaginative games. One of our favorite was “run away kids”. The story would vary from day-to-day, but either we were orphan children running away from the terrible orphanage or we were running away from a mean parent. We would hide out in the play house until it was too hot to breath (which happened quickly), and then we would run around the yard to cool off under the pretense that our local was discovered by the evil adult.
We had the best play house and swing set imaginable. Both were built by my dad. Our play house had an attic part and you could only go up there if you could get yourself up and down (clearly the older kids had their priorities straight). On the main level, it had a giant chalk board and three windows complete with plexiglass. We had an assortment of chairs and a table and a cabinet. The playhouse was yellow with a brown roof to match our house. The play set was epic. It had five different levels with a huge fireman pole. I think the pole actually came from a firehouse, it was legit. The play set had a wheel on it, because what kid hasn’t imagined they are driving a get-away car or are a pirate on a ship. And, coming off the top-level, was the longest slide you have ever seen. The original play set is gone, but the slide lives on and you can still see it to this day in my parents backyard. Coming off the main structure where three swings and a set of gym rings. Two of the swings were tire swings aka baby swings, and the third was a “big kid” swing. There was a lot of fighting over swings when the mood struck. We also had a giant sandbox on the other side of the swing set, and, for a time, there was a set of monkey bars in the sandbox. I told you, we had the ultimate set up.
I hope, by this point, you have realized a theme: rites of passage. There are certain things you got to do when you reached a certain age, like bike to the pool and library, or climb into the attic. I think much of my childhood was spent anticipating “the next level”, which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy every minute of growing up. There was always something I could do, but there was also a sense of perpetual anticipation. I loved seeing what was to come.