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Golden summer, Pioneer Days and a sky full of freedom

When I was a kid, August signified the end of summer. Pencil boxes and fresh packs of crayons appeared at German Village and the Variety Store, and that slow rise of panic started to settle low in my stomach.

I would stack my pile of books to read ever higher and stay out later in the backyard to watch every bit of sunlight drip slowly from the dusky sky. Then I would trek inside and watch all the TV movies I could into the dark slippery space of night, squeezing every inch of freedom that summer would allow.

I would wake up early in the hours just before dawn and turn off the TV manually, screen fuzzy with snow, and climb into my upstairs bed tucked under the eaves. My eyes would open somewhere in the forenoon, and I would repeat the day.

These types of summers existed somewhere in my elementary school years when there wasnít much expected of you except to wash the dishes once in a while and show up for supper.

Freedom existed for me in the pages of books that whisked me away or when mom would drop us off at the pool in Millersburg to while away a few hours. Learning how to exist outside rigid boundaries and watchful eyes formed a very large part of who I was.

With $2 in my pocket, enough for entry and to buy a drink and a candy bar, the vast expanse of concrete surrounding the tepid, blue water made for many interesting afternoons. The hierarchy of kids from the east and west of the county was a palpable line, and the ripple and heft of water as I ducked myself under served to make the line disappear for soft moments.

Pioneer Days was the best part of any summer. I canít recall now what month it was held in, but the anticipation of glorious minutes spent in its dreamy, sugary haze made for many sleepless nights of waiting.

On the day I would see packed-up Ferris wheels and Tilt-a-Whirls buzzing by my house en route to the elementary school grounds, my excitement was uncontrollable. My parents as well as everyone from the community took part in its festivities.

My sister ran for queen once, and we all wore homemade pioneer dresses with pinafores. There was a craft fair inside the tiny school gym that mom and her friends made many a pre-Pinterest goodie for, and Dad was the barker a year or two as well as making Trail and Swiss in the ever-present Lionís Club food trailer.

I remember being there every day, hot air of summer pressed around us, from the parade to the queen contest. There was competition and performance acts with lots of music in between eating the best barbecue chicken in the world and knowing we could walk around not being watched every second. The rides though, those were my favorite, and on and off I would go, my friends and I, letting the wind whip our hair as we glided around those wooden slats with metal cars and seats.

The carnival workers always scared me, just for several thrilling moments as their tattoos and cigarettes were seen by my smallish eyes and my even smaller world. They were the most helpful though when a ride I was riding broke and one of the cars crashed to the ground. My friend and I were suspended high up in the arms of that Octopus ride, afraid to make one move for fear it too would fall, and when we finally came down, I didnít ride it again for years.

Pioneer Days holds for me a golden-hued memory, and when it disappeared somewhere as I grew older, a part of me was left in its cotton candy grip.

As I write this, itís Aug. 1. Somewhere near me moms are packing up their kids to take them to soccer or volleyball practice, and the countdown to school begins.

My August looks different now with work that overwhelms and kids that donít need new tablets or backpacks. Iím driven back in time to the space my summers were spent in, four houses down on the left from Berlin Mennonite Church.

I find myself on the swing in the big back tree, radio playing and book-marked tome awaiting my return inside. The world was still small, and my minutes werenít consumed with practices and the weight of high school years. I was free, and the yellowed sky, slowly turning to a faint pink as the sun faded, told me to hang on to it for as long as I could.

Published: August 8, 2016
New Article ID: 2016708089974