‘Summertime and the living is easy
Fish are jumping and the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich and you mama’s good-looking
So hush little baby, don’t you cry.’
Who doesn’t remember George Gershwin’s fantastic song from ‘Porgy and Bess’? I first heard the memorable little tune up in the Texas Panhandle when I was just a kid.
Every time I hear it now, it evokes a feeling of those halcyon days of my youth during WWII, a lazy, carefree life my boyhood chums and I enjoyed each summer, laidback and unfettered, soaking in the heat and summer afternoon baseballs games while loafing in the shade of the giant cottonwoods. Of course, aren’t we all like that, in our own way?
But, back to our summer.
Everyone awaited the final day of school with high anticipation. And when that last bell rang, the school exploded with deafening cheers and shouts of relief. And that was just from the teachers.
You could track the route every youngster took on the way home by the trail of crumpled and torn paper left behind.
My best friend, Jerry, and I had been laying plans for our summer. Of course, we had our chores, chopping corn and cotton, milking, and making sure there was always plenty of lime in the outhouse.
But, we had enough spare time that we had decided to build us a yacht from a barrel we had discovered half submerged in the creek a few hundred yards west of us.
Now, what appealed to us about the barrel was that one side was cut out, and one end looked like a funnel. We never did figure out the purpose of the barrel, but to us, it was a ready-made ship with its own bowsprit.
The creek in which it was mired flowed into Chapman’s Lake, a small ten-acre lake that Mister Chapman used for his dairy herd. We lived just down the street from him, so he knew us well—probably too well, but he didn’t mind if we used his lake as long as we didn’t spook his cows.
And believe it or not, we never did, not deliberately at least. His lake was our refuge, our fishing hole, our swimming hole, our hideout on Halloween Night, and a perfect spot to camp, pretending we were on a great safari in Africa, where next morning, we’d venture out into the wilds of sage and scrub oak to hunt down the most dangerous game of all, the wily and deadly jackrabbit. Last thing we wanted to do was make Mister Chapman mad.
The first day after our chores, we hurried to the creek and began dredging out our soon-to-be flagship. While the land is sandy, a combination of muck swept down stream combined with the deposits of the local bovines, the mud we stirred up was pretty rank. But we didn’t mind. Strange how a wild dream blocks out all sense of reason and reality.
Anyway, we managed after a few hours to roll the barrel up on the bank and clean it out. That’s when we discovered, to our horror, that it had a couple holes rusted in it.
Now Jerry was always brighter than me, and he suggested we patch it with tar. It so happened his Dad had some cylinders of tar, so we hacked off some with our Boy Scout hatchets, and back at the creek, built a fire and melted the tar in my Mom’s bean pot. We even rigged a jig to hold the melted tar in place until it cooled.
And it cooled pretty fast, but not as fast as it did in Mom’s pot.
Finally, we were ready to launch our flagship. Believe it or not, it floated.
By the way, did I mention we knew absolutely nothing about nautical physics?
Jerry proclaimed he was entitled to the first voyage across the lake since he was our leader.
There we stood, ankle deep in muck and knee deep in water. I held the boat steady so Jerry could climb in. With one hand on my shoulder and the other on my uncle’s paddle to steady himself, he climbed in and knelt.
We were both beaming. Christopher Columbus and Magellan combined. “Okay,” he said. “Push me off.”
I did as my leader ordered, and even before he could sweep his paddle once, our mighty flagship flipped over, dumping Jerry and immediately sinking once again.
Only later did we learn that a rounded bottom needs great weights in the keels to maintain stability.
And we also learned that melted tar even scraped off a bean pot still leaves a horrible taste.
And once again, we were both faced another session with the business end of our fathers’ belts.
But still, it was summertime—and despite the belts, life was good. In fact, our next project was a tree house for our dogs.