Frozen Coconut Bars, MTV Videos and Creek Explorations Set the Scene for My Greatest Summer Traditions

I recently sponsored a contest on my Triangle TRACKS social network for North Carolina parents to post blogs about their favorite old-fashioned traditions. This resulted in some wonderful childhood recollections that filled me and other Triangle TRACKS readers with happiness and sentiment. You can link to the winning posts on the Triangle TRACKS home page.

Once the contest had ended, I decided to post my very own favorite childhood summer traditions. They drift into my mind as the scents and sounds of summer arrive each June.

I used to walk across that log as a child. It’s still there!

Banana Boat Coconut Oil summons memories of sunbathing with my mother in our backyard, the radio blaring ’80s tunes from my bedroom window. During the summer my mother, a special education teacher, would earn extra cash working at my uncles’ nursery. She would take my sister and me with her several days a week to split an hourly wage cutting ivy stems and planting them into 12-by-16-inch flats of fertilized soil. I fondly remember break time, when my sister and I would purchase a cold, glass bottle of Mello Yello for a quarter from the Coca Cola vending machine. Nothing tasted better than that.

My beautiful mom in the 1980s

The first hint of chlorine takes me beyond infinite memories of summertime swimming to a favorite treat: the coconut “FrozeFruit” bars my sister and I enjoyed poolside in Columbia, S.C. during our month-long July visit with our dad. Remember those? Delectable frozen chunks of all natural goodness filled with real pieces of fruit … I typically chose coconut, though I tried strawberry and banana once or twice.

Becky and I would swim for hours at the St. Andrews Fitness Center swimming pool while Daddy worked out at the gym, then we would quickly dive underwater when we saw him sneaking back to play “Turtleheads” with us, a game that required holding our breath for as long as possible, knowing that when we finally popped up, he would nail us on the head with a tennis ball. (This is the same man who taught us how to accurately fire a lit bottle rocket at his best friend across the parking lot.)

Consistently, we returned home with tired limbs and hungry bellies, turned on MTV and settled on Daddy’s totally ’80s black velvet sofa with a bowl of Sunchips to watch the latest videos. “Jump” by Van Halen, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson ranked among our favorites. (“California Girls” by David Lee Roth shockingly revealed to me what I could only hope to look like someday, after growing out of my figureless pre-teen frame.) These were the days of Cookie Crisp cereal for breakfast every morning and Breyer’s chocolate chip ice cream for dessert every night. Putt Putt, bowling and Vectrex games held our attention during the day. Chicken wing dives and TV dramas won our attention at night. (Will there ever be a better police drama than “Miami Vice”?)

Becky, me and Daddy in 1988

Exposing my kids to another favorite old-fashioned summer tradition requires something I don’t have here in North Carolina: acres of pristine, family-owned land. In 1910, my great-great-grandfather bought several hundred acres in Athens, Ga. along the Atlanta Highway. He built a beautiful summerhouse on the property overlooking a wide, burbling creek.

My grandparents later moved into a home on the other side of the creek that once served as a meeting facility for my great-grandfather’s Presbyterian ministry retreats. We spent many days—and nights—in both houses, eager to burn a trail down to the creek the very next morning—no shoes necessary. Our feet were as worn as a hobbit’s.

It was, and is, a perfect creek. We even named the sections of it we frequented most the log bridge, the waterslide, the swimming hole, the minnow pond and the “foot washer.” This was a rectangular groove of smooth slate over which a steady stream of ice-cold creek water ran. We could neatly slide our feet into that small space whenever we determined they needed a wash—which was often!

Further up the creek, we reverently climbed the Cinderella steps, so-named by my grandmother when she was a little girl, to a cluster of large, flat rocks where we would sit and talk, soaking up the sun and reclaiming our energy for more fun. Sometimes, when our adventurous uncles accompanied us, we would walk all the way to Eagle’s Nest, the furthest point of the creek on our property. It was marked by a large, high stone jutting out from a bank of Georgia clay.

We do have a small trickle of a creek behind our home, and my children have developed an intense love of it. They say to my husband and me, “Don’t ever move. We don’t want to leave our creek.” I know exactly how they feel.

Just west of my childhood creek was a golden meadow edged with blackberry bushes. Becky, my cousins and I would eat them right off the bush every July. We held family picnics under a large Beech tree in the middle of the field, and later, as teenagers, Becky and I sunbathed there with our battery-powered boom box and a cooler full of cold cokes.

Climbing the towering magnolia tree next to the goldfish pond behind my great-grandparents’ house was simply majestic. I climbed so high I felt invincible, as if nothing could ever change. But it has. I recently took my children back to see the creek, the meadow and the magnolia tree that serve as icons of my childhood. The creek seems lonelier, and is quieter. The golden meadow is now owned by the City of Athens, which thankfully has no plans to develop the land, but will instead preserve it as part of a greenway. The magnolia tree is enormous—much too tall to climb to the top of anymore. But those icons are all still there. And now my children can experience them, too.

The now very tall magnolia tree I climbed as a girl.

My sister and me on our great-grandparents porch, just above the magnolia tree. There’s a nursery flat just behind us!

My kids, enjoying my creek.

I took some photos of my kids playing in the creek and watched them climb the magnolia tree. It was more for me, then them. Surreally, I felt as though a cycle had completed, and indulged in a memory of myself at my daughter’s age: 57 pounds of bliss and bounce twisting through branches down the path to the creek. A soft landing on the sandy banks and splash! Into the cool fresh memory of my childhood. Hours later, the Georgia sun sets and I fall into a deep, sound sleep, ready to do it all over again in the morning.

When I take the time to really think about those days, I realize I may have already experienced heaven on earth. Now, I just need to make sure my kids have an opportunity to do the same.

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