Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thoughts on my childhood summers - part 2

For me, the summer vacations were split into three.

First, there was the time spent at home. No worries.

Second, there was the time spent with my grandparents in small-town Minnesota. More on that in a minute.

Third, there was the time spent at my dad's house with my stepmonster and stepsisters. This will require a whole other post.

I have to tell you, for Shannon and me, being at home with Mom was just fine with us. Yes, there was the typical arguments and the dreaded cleaning of the bedroom and such. But there was also the little outings and the relaxed atmosphere and the friends. This was best. Always the best.

When we lived in Wahpeton, we (Shannon and I) had a lot of freedom. Mom was doing home-health care at the time for this old lady who only lived a few blocks from us. She would go to work, and we'd run around everywhere. They have this great park in Wahpeton with a zoo and a pool and everything else to make a free child giggle with delight (mind you, I haven't been there in eighteen years, so I'm sure time has changed some things). I have just learned that they started charging admission to Chahinkapa Zoo (just try to pronounce that one). It was free when we lived there. I should've known that would end.

Anyway, I remember going to the pool every single day. Even on the days when it was particularly chilly. And afterwards, we'd hit up this little stand outside that served those little ice cones with all these different flavor syrups. We could have as many flavors as we wanted on those babies (okay, I'll have the bubblegum, and the watermelon, and the strawberry!) and they only charged a quarter (if memory serves correctly). It was awesome. We were so happy then.

I remember going to the little zoo all the time. Even on my own. I'd just ride my bike down there and walk through, hang out with the barnyard bunch in the petting zoo, and talk to my friend, the otter. It was pleasant.

Once we'd moved from Wahpeton to Anoka (MN), that all changed. We didn't feel like we had the kind of independence there we once had. The setting was completely different. After the two years in Anoka, we went to Oak Creek (WI), where I ended up graduating from high school. Oak Creek was a hell of a lot better than Anoka, but we were older by then and the degrees of independence were different as a result.

We lived in an apartment complex in Oak Creek that had a swimming pool. We spent a bunch of time there until growing too self-conscious of our bodies, and then it was only sporadically.

Anyhow, another part of our summer vacations was spent at Grandma and Grandpa's house. This wasn't too bad, though I have to say the forced labor wasn't pleasant. Grandma's idea of fun was making me and Shannon weed the garden, pick those god-awful string beans, and paint and clean whatever random thing came up. Say what you want about the pleasures of living in an old home. When you're a kid and it's summer vacation, the last thing you want to do is chores.

My grandparents' marriage was - er - interesting. I've been told that the first few years they were married they were both very happy. Somewhere along the way, that changed. The result was my Grandpa being buzzed at the supper table while Grandma nagged him endlessly. If you'd been watching me and Shannon, you'd think we were at a tennis match. Let the insults fly!

It wasn't all bad. We had friends to play with, and books to read, and an endless supply of old movies to watch (most of which I've probably forgotten).

And Grandpa, God bless him, knew how to pick out the sweets. In his lifetime, he probably ate damn near a million of the chocolate covered cake doughnuts he got from the bakery in Spring Valley. To be fair, those things are excellent. He'd freeze them, and we'd take them out, one at a time, and nuke them for fifteen or twenty seconds. Divine!

Ah, the simplicity of those days!

But, as is the lot of children of divorced parents, we had to go to Dad's at some point.

And this, my friends, is where the summer vacations get sticky (and I don't mean humid).

Continued tomorrow...

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