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May 27, 2024


By Lydia Manx

For me, summer is a jumble of various images both old and new. Childhood memories of my summer involved going up to Northern California and floating on the Feather River on a black inner tube and walking back up the road, or when really hot, in my tennis shoes in the river -- rocks and all. Nibbling on blackberries over ice cream would cap the day for my siblings and me. We were up there for family vacations for years. The family cabin we stayed at was built over the years, which was the originally the reason we went up to the lovely fire-prone area. Some of the best parts of summer were spent watching my cousins and uncle build a home from the ground up.

When I turned eighteen, babysitting jobs weren't going to be enough to pay for college so my mom not-so-gently suggested I get a 'real' job -- that first step towards paying FICA and other assorted alphabet-soup letters that would ever so casually remove dollars and dimes bi-weekly for the rest of my life. Being not so subtle in my own way, I picked the local fair. I figured it was only a few weeks out of my life -- how bad could it be?

I was hired quickly in a cotton candy booth on the main thoroughfare of the fair. My sister worked with me and we got a box of plums from one of other gals and naturally went home and made jam. Yes, summer is the hottest time of the year so obviously you need to be in the kitchen with boiling sugar and puréed fruit until it meets glass and scalding water -- repeat until no more gooey jam in pot. The second week wasn't nearly as fun because the owners actually expected half the girls to quit -- which they did -- so suddenly I was finding out how the real world worked. There never is enough help, and always too much work.

Summers rolled on and my jobs changed over time. But there always have been some touchstones for my ideal summers. When living in Michigan, I started growing walls of sunflowers for the birds and squirrels -- and to my surprise I found -- also the lightning bugs. Sitting on the back porch watching the flitting Disneyland-like bugs dance into the dusk, I discovered that during the day they would be on the under side of the large sunflower leaves. We don't have lightning bugs in Southern California, but I still grow the sunflowers in memory of those Michigan evenings.

The summers now tend to start with my dad and I going to baseball games. Sometimes with my brothers, but mostly without, either way I've always liked games. The new park isn't bad at all; it has all the necessary options, including nice seats and hot dogs sold by vendors for obscenely high prices. We usually park a few streets over in a garage and walk to the stadium. The new styles of ballparks cropping up are more open than the old ones I grew up with and loved.

Sadly, while I lived in Michigan, Detroit gave up the old Tiger Stadium in Corktown, originally built around 1895, for one of the new flashy stadiums. Ironically the old Tiger Stadium is due to be demolished this summer. In 1999 I went to a few games before the team moved to the new digs in the massively renovated new urban area of the city. Comerica Park now hosts the Tigers and it comes with a Ferris wheel, a huge white tiger in front, a baseball museum and other shops and flashy attractions. It isn't as homey feeling as the old Tiger Stadium but it's the new style of baseball parks.

Petco Park is similar to my eyes to the Comerica Park. The same use of the skyline behind the various parts of the stadium, and in San Diego's case they kept one of the old downtown buildings in the actual park. The Western Metal Supply Company Building was renovated and incorporated into the park. You can actually eat dinner at the restaurant on the fourth floor and watch the game. I have admired the building while in the stands, but never had the chance to watch a game from the choices of seats offered in the historic building.

Dad and I got to watch a pitching match up this year and I enjoyed the game. The park claims to afford an intimate setting for watching the Padres lose -- I mean win. I have found they are telling the truth. I have yet to see a game from up on the top level like I did at Comerica -- which was a scary proposition walking up and down steep concrete stairs while trying to hold a drink in a hand and hotdog in the other. But I imagine one day I will get tickets in the cheap seats just to see a good match up.

I still head to the local fair. It's gone from being called the Del Mar Fair to the San Diego Fair. The old cotton candy booths like I worked when eighteen no longer line just the main street but actually are in the Fun Zone. The theme this year was "Heroes" and they had many events. I went with a friend and she and I spent time going to the buildings most of our family and friends like to skip.

We went to the animal area first because I like looking at the 4-H club exhibits. But I noticed something this summer I hadn't seen before when looking at the rabbits, turkeys, pigs and cows. Signs were on the pens denoting them as '"meat". Oops, I knew that the kids sold their pigs and cows for farmers to butcher but hadn't thought of the rabbits and turkeys as future food. I always remembered seeing the cute guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas when I visited the pens years ago but didn't recall the signs.

My friend talked me into sitting in the bleachers and watching the pig races. Yes, seriously. The Swifty Pig Races were out in the corner of the fairgrounds and hysterically funny. I'm not a fan of country western music, but the crowd loved the loud music and screamed the lyrics to whatever was playing. Contrary to my imagination the pigs racing weren't huge racks of ribs but the too cute baby backs.

We also wandered through the collections, skipping the high school yearbook section. Somehow that was disturbing to me. I don't care for the idea of all those pictures of kids on display for the general public without any regard for privacy. But given our present society's desire to show it all to anyone with Facebook, Live Journal and MySpace I guess a few books out under the grandstands can't be too much worse. Still I skipped the display and headed for the more unusual.

Shot glass collections were cute. I wondered if the owners liberated or bought them. A couple had taken pictures of their relationship in the photo booths from dating through marriage and children. It was sweet. The display started with the four snaps from the Fresno State Fair and continued through the Del Mar Fair pictures and later San Diego Fair. Included in the glass topped display box was a picture of the wife's very large belly as she was pregnant with their child. That made me grin. There were some unusual collections and I am still trying not to think of those. But the one piece in that area that was truly disturbing was the china plate with Martha Stewart's face painted on it with a golden halo. It didn't win a blue ribbon.

Yes, the fair still gives away blue ribbons. The next thing we went in search of after the food stop -- corn dog with lemonade for me and a huge egg roll for her (seriously the egg roll was at least ten inches long) -- was trains. The fair used to keep the trains inside one of the older buildings but that was taken over by the pigs and turkeys this year. I mean the animals! So in between hitting the various bars (not me I was driving) and testing the beers and tequilas we found trains. Being used in the garden areas. Truly there are competitions for garden displays. And folks were using trains. Most of the themes were reduction of water thirsty plants. Drought resistant plants were very popular. Eventually, after we found the plumeria plant lady's stand, we found the real N-Gauge trains running around the corner of the building. While at one of the beer gardens we found out that we'd missed the worm-eating contest in our haste to find trains. We both grimaced and kept wandering the fair. And we bought some cool new sunglasses and caught sun while walking around that day.

Which brings me to the best part of summer for me. Swimming. Yes, I am a water fan. Ever since I was a child I would find water. Since I didn't learn to 'really' swim until I was about ten that made my non-swimming folks more than a bit nervous. Later I swam in the ocean every summer from the moment I could put my toes in the water and not bring them out blue.

Unfortunately one of the side effects of living in Southern California is we are the cesspool for the entire coast. Three summers ago on a walk along the beach I saw this froth. It was light brown and coming from the ocean. It looked horrible and I avoided it. Yet there were moms and dads letting their kids play in it! I found out later it was from opening the tidal area and the ocean washing it out and down. Detergent in appearance but it wasn't -- it was something else.

That was the year I decided pools held far more attraction to me than ocean water. At least the pools used massive amounts of chlorine to kill strange and exotic things. So I began joining my brother and his family at their local pool. Summer time -- unheated pool and yet that is the best feeling in the world. The clubhouse is keyed so minimal amount of unsupervised kids -- in theory. The diving board I still haven't gone off more than once or twice. I am content to float, swim and dive off the side. The sun has been delightful this summer. If I have too many hours at work, I will call my sister-in-law and beg some pool time. It's not floating down a river on an inner tube, but it is a great way to break up a day and remember the fun of being a kid if just for a few hours.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-08-13
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