Childhood summers were best spent using our imaginations

kids swim
When Sutherland thinks of her childhood summers she can remember playing in the hay mow, swimming, climbing trees, and spending hours exploring the woods.

Is there any joy quite like ending a school year and busting through the doors toward summertime fun? I’ve many times wished every adult could have just a couple weeks of total freedom from every single thing starting June 1, just to maintain that unequaled thrill once a year.

Little farmer

Oliver, with the wisdom of a 5-year-old, told me that he is “really, really, really done with school” but he thinks it should have happened a few weeks ago when his dad needed his help in the fields. This is a boy who could study a tractor-implement magazine “just to see what they got” for the longest time.

If he has the choice between a toy, a colorful children’s book or a farm newspaper, there is no doubt he will pick the farm publication without even a moment’s hesitation. His favorite reading time is spent in the family car, heading to a Lake Erie cabin for a long weekend. It’s a good way for a little farmer to catch up on the latest in the implement world.

Hay tunnels

When I think of our childhood summers, it seems to me we rarely sat still. We didn’t take many long trips or we might have sought reading material, too. Most of our days, in between milking and chores, were spent finding something to do out of the confines of the house. The hay and straw mows captivated us for hours on end, especially when half-empty — the point before summer’s crops filled them too tight to play. We worked so hard moving bales around, creating caves and tunnels and amazing little rooms.

My sister Debi, who would one day become Oliver’s grandmother, once insisted we build a chapel way up high in the mow for her Barbie doll’s wedding. Ken was the lucky guy, and Barbie deserved the very best wedding we could conjure up. My sister was the original wedding planner. It fell to me to carry shoe boxes filled with important trinkets and clippings from old Sears catalogs for that big event.


We loved to swim, climb trees, and spend hours exploring the woods. I remember swimming in a creek that ran through my grandfather’s farm. The water then seemed clear and always cold. We would wade in knee-high water, searching for tadpoles to take home in glass jars. It was our own science study. Not too many years later, there was no life in that water, polluted from upstream.

Rainy days

On rainy days, we often played on the stairs in our house. We played school there, with good students getting promoted to the next “grade” by moving up a step. If someone acted up or did not listen while the older sister-teacher read a story to us, you might get sent all the way back to the first step. If you made it all the way up to where the stairs took a curve to the landing, you might even get to be a teacher’s assistant.

New games

When we ran out of our own made-up games, visiting cousins taught us new ones. A small pedestal bedroom lamp, wrapped in a towel and held under an arm, became a game called “Spotlight,” the bed our stage. We could choose to sing or dance when our turn came. We made up little skits, dressed up in any garb we could turn in to Hollywood costume.

On those early days of summer, school days behind us, it felt like we had all the time in the world. “Hey, it’s done raining!” someone would proclaim, and our troupe headed outdoors for the next made-up game, no fancy equipment required.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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