August: a time to relax a bit

Published 8:01 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August is generally hot and muggy, but back in the days of our youth, it was also a time to unwind between the busy early part of summer and the busier still harvest season in fall.

At some point in August, those of us who lived on farms of Isle of Wight and Surry could depend on a few free days. Peanuts were laid by — no more chopping weeds, though we might cut them down as they grew above the rows. For those with cattle, silage cutting had been completed. Corn tops had been cut, a practice that protected stalks to some degree during tropical storms.

There were sows and pigs to tend, but by itself, that wasn’t a fulltime job.

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All of which meant a little free time. Time to go swimming, or wrangle an invitation to go saltwater fishing on somebody’s workboat. If no invitation was offered, there was always Ocean View, where a whole fleet of wooden rowboats with big numbers painted on their bows could be rented. Just row a ways off from the beach, and you could fill a number 3 washtub with big, tasty Ocean View spot.

There was time to pay relatives one last visit before school started. A visit to aunts and uncles in Surry meant helping with a few chores just like at home, but mostly it meant a chance to be lazy, exploring country roads on a bicycle, fishing in farm ponds and eating watermelons cooled in a tub of well water or a horse trough.

At home, whole days could be occupied exploring creeks in a tiny bateau. And with a .22 rifle, you could always turn a trip up the creek into a snake hunt. And there were plenty of them. I recall pushing the bateau out of its shallow gut at low tide one day and disturbing a big moccasin that had slid under the boat into the cool mud. I don’t know which was more frightened, the snake or me, but I suspect it was me.

Toward the end of August, as the days before the opening of school slipped by, the reality that summer would soon end confronted us. In those final days, the effort to “relax” became more intense.

In our teen years, there were night enjoyments. In the country, there was always frog gigging, an enterprise that provided a bit of adventure among night critters and a tasty meal to boot. But there was also time to hang out with other teens at the Tastee Freez in Smithfield, the Frosty Freez in Crittenden or Rodney Bell’s Amoco Station on Highway 10 (Now Benn’s Church Boulevard). Both the “Freezes” served good burgers and fries and both were meeting places for dozens of teenagers. The service station had packaged burgers that could be heated in a miniature oven as well as packaged condiments.

Whether snake hunting, frog gigging, just puttering around the creek in a bateau or hanging out somewhere, we were determined to make the most of those halcyon days.

But August always ended, as it does today. And when it did, summer was indeed over. In our younger childhood, back to school meant nights filled with supervised homework, and thus less plundering around outside. When we became teens, we learned to fudge on the homework, though grades were often not fudge-proof.

The end of summer also meant one of farming’s busiest seasons was coming. Peanut digging was just around the corner, as was corn picking. There would be little rest until winter, and winter was not nearly as much fun as summer in the days before modern insulated clothes for outdoors and central heat for indoors.

So, a salute to August. With all its heat and humidity, it was a time of freedom, a time to be kids, to spend days with a hand line or rifle and nights with a frog gig, getting into some minor mischief just for the sake of getting into it, and wishing with all your heart that school wouldn’t open just yet.