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Remembering life as a kid in summer and value of work
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I miss being a kid in summer.

When the school year gives way to sweltering days, you don't want to be thinking about going to the office when you'd rather grab an inner tube and fly off down a country road to the chilly waters of the reservoir. Going three months without a care in the world was something I took for granted so long ago but seems almost like heaven today as an adult.

I grew up four miles out in the country which spelled both opportunity for fun and boredom in summer. Town was just a short drive away and we'd often pool our money and peddle our bikes off to the Ben Aker Store in Valley Home to buy soda and candy.

I remember loving the rural location but hating the chores. My dad raised turkeys, chickens, vegetables and a cow or two on our little two-acre ranchette. Dad inticed us to capture tomato worms feasting in his garden by offering a bounty of 25 cents per head. We often took no prisoners, systematically murdering the ugly creatures with a BB-gun shot as we'd watch their green lives ooze away as they lost their grip on the vine.

The sights and sounds of summer can take me back to those days like they never went away after the passage of 40 years. The way heat dances a mirage on a hot road. The smell of cut grass and the sound of lawnmowers. The taste of watermelon or the way corn on the cob wedges between the teeth. The itchiness of grass after you've played on the lawn. The tap of sprinkler water hitting an item in the yard. The smell of a hardware store on your trip to buy a new hose. Sweat matting your hair to your scalp.

Mr. Lawson, the kind neighbor man who lived across the street, had a small herd of cows which he'd ask us kids to feed when he was away. That job made me feel important, with the cows depending on us for subsistence as we broke bales of hay to dropped them into their feeding stock.

The sound of Mr. Lawson's peacocks defined the sound of summer. They'd cry as the heat of the day was seized by a cooler Delta breeze. Although we laughed that their call sounded as though they were yelling "help-p-p! help-p-p!" it brought a peace that all was right in our little rural corner of the world.

Life was grand then. We'd often stage military operations in a neighbor kid's hay barn. We'd splash around in the wading pool without a care of paying bills or maintaining relationships. We'd ride bicycles past a small dairy where the aroma of cow manure mixed with the soft sounds of a radio playing country music from inside a milking shed. A small irrigation ditch covered in grass and vines gave us a place to act out the exploration of a South American jungle, with enough of a current to make us pretend we were shooting the rapids of the Colorado.

I'm not sure where the age of innocence ended but like anything it came about slowly, minute by minute, event by event. Events such as stumbling upon a National Geographic which stripped - pun intended - my speculation about the appearance of the opposite gender. It also came the day that I was called from a backyard game of football with the neighbors to a blood stain on the road where my puppy had been rolled by the tires of a car. I was sickened to see its limp and bloody body in a shovel ready for burial. I stole away to cry by myself. (When you're 11 you don't anyone to see you cry.) Then there was the time one of Mr. Lawson's majestic peacocks fell victim to a car and we incredulously watched an opportunistic girl jumped out of the car to pluck a feather from the dead bird.

Innocence died, too, when classmate Vivian Loughlin was taken one cold winter night in 1974 by a man who picked her up as a hitchhiker, attempted to rape her and then killed her with a shotgun blast as she ran for help.

That's when the child sees the carefree world become invaded by sometimes unwelcome forces.

The death knell of the age of innocence, ultimately, was hearing the words, "You boys should get summer jobs." What? Work on our vacation? How dare they, I thought in my entitlement mindset at the time (which would be very unbecoming for a future conservative.)

Summer jobs in the country are never glamorous. My first was cleaning out chicken houses by the shovel. Talk about a crappy job, but I wasn't afraid to work once I got into it. My first job during college was working as an egg picker on a Foster Farms chicken ranch. Yes, it's a dirty job, sliding in manure and battling laying hens who bite the hand rather than give up the eggs they're warming.

Much has changed in America since the 1970s. I know many kids still seek summer jobs but I doubt if working on a farm or ranch is the first thing that comes to mind. It's hard work. You get dirty. I sense many a kid today has been cocooned in such comfort and ease that they sense such work is "beneath" them, hence a whole country that has deferred all manual labor to the illegal and less expensive variety.

It's a sad thing to see because of the benefits one can miss. When you work in nasty conditions - like a chicken house - you can do anything later in life ... clean cloth diapers when you raise babies, for example, and you're not afraid to tackle yard work on the weekend.

And judging from the looks of lots of sloven properties in our communities, I'd say that few people have got the chance to work in a chicken house, if you know what I mean.

I'd say stay cool, kids, but there just might be something for you in the heat and sweat of a summer job.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at