Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.

Summers at Lake Michigan

For me, it all began at Rainbow beach which also had an expansive park for picnics. I remember the water purification plant which is now called Eugene Sawyer Purification Plant. My memories of Rainbow had a lot to due with dead fish on the beach and closings due to poor water quality during the 1960’s so since the Southside of Chicago wasn’t that far from Indiana and someone had a car, we would head to Indiana Dunes.

The Dunes was less than an hour from Chicago so a day trip was perfect. Located in Porter County, the beach offered about 15 miles of sandy shoreline with great hiking trails and camp grounds. Though some people became afraid to go to the Dunes in July of 1966 since three young women in bathing suits left the beach, climbed in a small motorboat and were never seen again. Others found the Dunes extremely crowded and in the 1970’s so many of us gravitated to Warren Dunes in Michigan instead.

Warren Dunes has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round. It also has a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views and 1,952 acres of recreational opportunity. Located in Sawyer Michigan, the dunes was approximately an hour and 30 minutes from the city by car and you could take a train from Union Station. The beach was never crowded and always clean. Among the park’s dunes are Mt. Fuller, Pikes Peak, and Mt. Edwards, with the most significant being Tower Hill, the highest point in the park, which stands 240 feet (73 meters) above the Lake Michigan. And downtown Sawyer offered bookstores and antique shops.

Throughout the 1980’s, I lived in the Waukegan area teaching high school and sometimes spending my summers working other jobs or going to school. But did I spend alot of time at Waukegan Harbor and Illinois Beach State Park. In fact, I could hear foghorns from my kitchen window…only a few miles from Waukegan Harbor and the Marina.

The first times I sailed, I did with friends from the Waukegan Harbor and when we didn’t sail, many would fish and take a walk out to the lighthouse. One of the best seafood restaurants was located their called Mathons, which had portholes for windows and a friendly bar. On the fourth of July in 1987, we went down to the Harbor for fireworks and I was pregnant with my son. He had been fairly quiet up until that night when he kicked up a storm at listening to the sounds. He was born only a few weeks later.

The first time I said the words Illinois State Beach Park or was it Illinois Beach State Park when I was in third grade on a stage; terrified to speak. I was so worried that my informational one minute speech, completely memorized, would be botched. It was not by choice. It was a place in Illinois given to me by my teacher to research. All third graders was assigned this project.

That is the first thing that I remembered as a guest at the beach and park. Oh, my, it really does exist! Illinois Beach State Park  stretched 6.5 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan in Zion. The 4,160-acre park, consisted of two separate areas (North Unit and South Unit), which offered ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and simply appreciating nature.

In the 1990s, 2000’s and now, I live in Downers Grove with a pool and a pond in the back yard though I don’t think the pond would be good for you! (Caddyshack movie joke for some who remember. In the movie, the pond was better for you.

However, today, my adult children and I travel back and forth, up and down. We have taken a walk at Rainbow beach, had ice cream at the Waukegan Harbor, took pictures of what used to be the beer store at Illinois Beach State Park, explored the Dunes and added Michigan City to our travels.

All through one’s lifetime, great vacations still spent on the shore’s of Lake Michigan!