The long month before school begins

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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August was a favorite month for those of us who grew up on Isle of Wight and Surry farms back in the day. It was then, as now, generally hot and humid, but it was also the time when farmwork slowed, a time when a boy could occupy himself with a fishing line or frog gig rather than a weeding hoe.

During this long month before school began, we could depend on a few free days. Peanuts were laid by. Silage cutting was done (those of us who didn’t have cattle worked on farms that did to help harvest silage, and got paid cash money for doing so). Corn tops had been cut. 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, him or me, but I suspect it was me.

The other place you could depend on encountering snakes was while frog gigging. Frog gigging wasn’t confined to August, but could be enjoyed all summer, since nights were almost always free time, so long as you were up in time to work the next day. I never was particularly good with a gig, but I could sure paddle a boat or canoe. So I ended up paddling while my brother, who rarely missed a frog with a gig, would expertly handle that task.

During a particularly rainy summer, we were gigging a sinkhole pond at a relative’s farm near Bacon’s Castle. The pond was filled well beyond normal and water was up among dense myrtle bushes. As I paddled into the myrtles to get closer to frogs on the bank, snakes began falling out of the bushes. Each rustle and splash meant one more snake we had shaken loose. It didn’t take us long to decide we had all the frogs we wanted.

Thus went summer, and particularly August. And then, it was over. Back to school meant nights filled with homework, and thus less plundering around outside. But it also meant fall was coming. Peanut digging was just around the corner, as was corn picking. There would be little rest until winter, and winter’s not nearly as much fun as summer.

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.