What I did this summer


Lake Martin is busy, the rich scent of smoked meat fills the air, and my LDL cholesterol count is already rising.
Pontoon boats are everywhere. Happy children ride in tubes, pulled behind fast outboards. The kids are screaming as they happily pee in the lake at high speeds.
And all this reminds me that my childhood was severely different than theirs.
Do you remember going back to school after a long summer? Remember how the first thing we always had to do was write an essay entitled “How I Spent My Summer.”
Well, I never had anything good to write. Namely, because I was a chubby redhead from a strict fundamentalist family.
During the summers, kids in my family did not go to lakes because we were not allowed to participate in “mixed bathing,” lest our carnal desires were awoken in third grade.
We were not allowed to watch Disney movies. Such as “Pinnochio,” because whenever Pinnochio lies his nose grows in a “X-rated way.”
Nor were we permitted to watch “Snow White.”
“Snow White is smut!” the preacher shouted to our un-air-conditioned church. “What kind of harlot lives with seven tiny unmarried men?!”
That one really got the paper fans going.
As sanctified children, our only form of entertainment was watching our grandfather play a Weltmeister accordion, watching Billy Graham crusades, or browsing the women’s undergarment section of the Sears catalog.
The children in my world attended, at minimum, seven different summer VBS programs. Thus, while other kids were water skiing, eating Flintstone Push Ups, I was memorizing Revelation 13 for scripture drills:
“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him…”
Although, sometimes my old man secretly took me to ball games. He did this until his death. We weren’t supposed to go, of course. It was sinful. But he took me anyway.
Baseball games were my exposure to the outside world. I remember my cousin and I going to ballparks and seeing different fashions we’d never seen among our congregation. We nearly ruptured our eyeball muscles gawking.
My cousin elbowed me when a young woman passed by. “Did you see that?” he said.
“No, what’d I miss?”
“Her short-shorts were so tight I could read the laundry label.”
My father and his friends (all deacons) walked up to a beer vendor and ordered. They were wearing caps, pulled down, and heavy sunglasses like they were in witness protection.
I remember sitting in the nosebleeds. My cousin and I ordered hotdogs from a vendor. We had never seen an actual hotdog before. That’s how sheltered we were.
The vendor handed us two hotdogs. My cousin and I looked at the food in horror. “Man!” my cousin exclaimed, “which part of the dog did you get?”
But we watched the game without interruptions. There was no loud music between innings, except for an organ. The atmosphere was 90-percent cigar smoke, 10 percent cussing. It was a prodigiously perfect experience.
Afterward, we went home and chased fireflies (lightning bugs) until bedtime. We rode bikes. We listened to transistor radios. We broke our arms on rope swings in the creek. We got sunburned on purpose. We played Spin the Bottle. Truth or Dare. Tag.
And sometimes, at this age, I’d give anything to go back and relive a summer like that.
Anyway, that’s how I spent my summer.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist and stand-up storyteller known for his commentary on life in the American South. His column appears in newspapers throughout the U.S. He has authored 15 books, he is the creator of the Sean of the South Podcast and he makes appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.