A scratch on my arm left a scab and now it itched, so I instinctively scratched at it, loosening it some but careful not to rip it or it might bleed again.
I smiled, thinking back to the days when all of the neighborhood kids had scabs, mostly in the summer when we ran around in shorts and T-shirts. “Road rash” wasn’t a term we used back then and it would have been only partially accurate. Bike crashes, tripping on an unseen root in the woods or slipping on loose rocks were just some of the mishaps that caused them. Some were bad enough to last all summer. We wore them as a badge of honor, scratching them constantly.
Thinking about this made me wonder what it would be like to be entering a summer like this one if it occurred when I was maybe seven years old. We would probably have had no schooling for months. With no internet there would have really been no good way to continue education. Maybe the stay-at-home mothers of that era would have tried teaching their kids. For about a week.
But if we had a summer like this one is destined to be, it would be a lot different. First, there would be no Bible School. That would have been fine by me. It was tolerable, being held in the mornings the first week school was out. But after that we were free.
There were some scheduled things like YMCA youth baseball. We also attended some city-sponsored summer recreation activities at Colvill Park. That’s where I quickly learned that soccer was not for me after getting my shins kicked relentlessly.
So, if we had a summer back then that was locked down by a pandemic, there would be none of the usual activities. We wouldn’t even be allowed to play with our neighborhood friends. We couldn’t ride our bikes to Paton’s Grocery for candy and pop. And we’d have to wear masks.
“You kids stay away from the other kids. You can’t play with them right now. Stay in our yard,” I could hear Mom yell at us as we ran out the back door. She knew from the authority of WCCO radio how to deal with the pandemic.
It wasn’t so bad if you had brothers to play with, and I did. Dave, Woof and I had a long wide backyard that went uphill to the woods at the base of Sorin’s Bluff along East Seventh Street. But was the woods off-limits? Well, we just wouldn’t tell anyone.
We would get sick of each other soon enough. Living together all the time is one thing, but to be forced to play with each other all day would be quite another. The alternative, as Mom would tell us, was to stay inside and she’d find something for us to do. Nope, not doing that. The house was not air-conditioned so in summer it was only useful for food, sleep, bathroom breaks and Band-Aids.
Maybe later, when enough mothers complained, the rules would change so kids could play with each other if they wore masks. Hey, that could be fun! We’d play bad guys robbing a bank. But we’d quickly decide that it was just not right that the good guys would also be wearing masks. Then maybe we’d pretend we were doctors performing surgery on a neighbor kid. None of this would last until lunch on the first day.
“Mom, this mask is too hot. Can’t I take it off?” She would have made our masks, probably out of wool.
“No, unless you want to stay in the house all day and then I’ll find something for you to do.”
Back in the yard, out of Mom’s keen eyesight, it wouldn’t take long before older brother Dave would take his mask off and put it in his pocket.
“I’m telling Mom!” I’d threaten. But then the ever-reasoning Dave would explain that we could all take them off if no one told Mom. We just needed to wear them when she or Dad could see us.
Mom would want to wash the masks each week. If yours wasn’t dirty, that meant you didn’t wear it. So we would make sure to rub some dirt on them before shoving them back in our pockets.
Inevitably, we would misplace them and that would imply that we weren’t wearing them. If it wasn’t in a pocket of your shorts, it could be anywhere. That would require much retracing of steps. Kind of like losing your mittens, which we were also good at.
As the summer wore on, we would eventually get desperate.
“Can we ride to Colvill Park to play on the swings?”
“No, they took the swings down and the playground is off-limits.” The Colvill swimming pool would also be closed, of course, as would the refreshment stand.
When we went into the house to eat, we’d be reminded to wash our hands with warm water and soap.
“Mom, do we hafta sing the row your boat song? I’m sick of it,” Woof would complain. By now we would have migrated from the alphabet song to the birthday song to “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, singing each one progressively faster so we could get done.
“Sing ‘Yankee Doodle’,” she said. “And Randy, clean the scabs on your arm. They’re filthy.”