Carol Jane Remsburg
Each year it would happen. The days would grow warm and seemed to live forever and then school would end. Summer vacation became a reality. And for a few years it was also an escape from my well loved home. I was off for another adventure splitting my time between one grandmother in a quaint small town and my other grandparents out in the countryside.
I always had a hard time trying to decide which was more fun. As it was trying to compare apples with oranges, I finally figured out it couldn't be done and so I just forgot about it and enjoyed it the all of it. Kids have that ability.
If I were lucky I stayed for at least half the summer if not longer splitting the week between grandparents.
Out in the country I had my choice between camping out in the family tent or inside on the couch. I always opted for the tent because it was a thrill. My grandparents were true country people with animals to tend and chores to be done. They were also people who earned much of their income from the back creeks of the mid-Chesapeake where true treasures lay.
There was a wild freedom to be had in that open country with few neighbors. The cock would indeed crow at dawn and then wouldn't shut up. Breakfast was ready with hot shortbread biscuits with fried green tomatoes and gravy and coffee. Yes, even older kids were allowed coffee back then and I relished mine only with heavy doses of sugar and real cream. Then it was off to the water. Most times I went alone out in that leaky old wooden rowboat with my drop-line fishing tackle and peelers for bait. Grandmom would hope that I came home with a good catch because that just might be dinner. And if I did come home with a bunch of fresh perch—I had to clean them too. I found out that you can almost tame feral cats with fish leavings.
Yes, life in the countryside offers a certain type of freedom found nowhere else, but the nearby small town held as much or more allure.
For 3-4 days and nights each week I spent with my paternal grandmother, Ida. She lived on Seymour St. in Saint Michaels right across from the school. There wasn't a road or a face I didn't know because I walked them. I certainly couldn't get into any trouble in those days because there wasn't a front porch I didn't pass by that didn't hail me for an invite for the latest gossip along with the offering of a cool drink and a cookie. No kid in his or her right mind will ever pass that up.
There wasn't a soul in town that didn't know "Ida" and being the spitting image of her, I couldn't cross any line without everyone knowing it. But that's just small town life. I felt safe there. Moreover I felt I belonged there because I did.
This was back in the late 1960s and into the late 1970s.
Hope's Hardware was always open along with the "American Store" which now was labeled the "Acme" but no one ever called it anything other than the American Store, and then there was Hudson's. I adored Hudson's because when I was younger they had the very best that a true soda fountain could offer. When I hit pre-teen and early teen, I found out they offered makeup. Well, I saved all my pennies and spent hours hovering over the Max Factor® and Revlon® displays. I didn't have much time or interest in Maybelline® or Coty®. I wanted only the best.
But being "in town" wasn't just cruising the stores or providing the tourists a free guide as they shuffled with their pamphlets—they also got great stories that weren't in those little paper offerings. They got the gossip and all the ghost stories as well. They all left quite satisfied and often I was surprised to get a dollar or two out of the deal—I never asked for nor expected it. It was just fun to show off "my town."
However it wasn't my town any longer. Granted I was born in Saint Michaels and was bitter that I could no longer claim it as my own. We had moved away when I was only three to the big town of Salisbury some 60 miles away. I was eager for every weekend, holiday, and summer vacation that took me home again. It's just because in our new home I didn't feel at home. I was anonymous there and felt strongly that I didn't belong. When I did come home—everyone knew me. I liked that even though it did keep me out of trouble.
But the highlight of my summer vacation wasn't the camping, fishing, visiting, or expeditions to my Aunt Marian & Uncle Norman's in-ground pool or even next door to them at the Yacht Club---the real gloss was something else. The high sparkle and strongest memory was of the Fireman's Carnival. It was held right across the street from my grandmother's house on the school grounds. It lasted a week and sometimes seemed to run longer than that.
The nights were alive with the scent of cotton candy, sizzling homemade burgers, dogs, and chicken. The air was redolent with tantalizing aromas that even if you had just eaten, you felt voraciously hungry again—but that's being a kid—sometimes that's even being an adult if you allow yourself to be transported back in time.
The shrieks of the thrill-seekers on the rides could be heard above the crowd noise and the carny-music and calls for attention. Everywhere there were lights, flashes, and gaiety. The town turned out in style and unwound a little. There was laughter at the "pitch-n-throw" and catcalls when you didn't win but it was all good-natured.
The carnival itself had a life of its own. It seemed powered by my grandmother's seemingly endless change purse of nickels, dimes, and quarters. We went every night the carnival was there and I never tired of the rides, the food, or the chance to "win" a something. Afterwards we'd walk across the street tired and heavy-footed. It was hot and sultry. Grandmom's air-conditioned house beckoned us with a cool promise of comfort. Grandmom's house was the only house I knew that offered this gift of luxury during summer and I reveled in it.
It would be quite late, well after 10 PM, but I'd hurry to bathe and then be presented with a treat of Breyer's Ice Cream® before falling into a luxurious slumber.
Ah yes, those were the days. I despair that those days will never come again. But, as long as the Fireman's Carnival has an annual resurrection it will offer many the memories that I have and cherish. I know I wasn't alone and there are many others who remember as I do. These are the memories of childhood I can only hope my child will be allowed to experience and to remember.