It was always a ritual. The final countdown to the last bell of the school year. The last 20 seconds until nigh 3 months of absolute freedom.
As a youngin, my summers were spent with Mamaw and Papaw 3 miles out a little country road, and it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized just how much their lives impacted the person I was to become. Papaw was a tinkerer…honestly, he was an engineer, but at heart he was a tinkerer who could make any machine come to life, and he had built a personal Harley wagon. Part Harley Davidson, part Volkswagen. And this blue and white 3 wheeler took us on enough adventures to fill a book. The little side compartment would be filled with brown loaf bread, a stick of bologna, a couple of tomatoes, and cokes from the little country store, and that was our lunch for each exploration. It was on this machine that we explored every dirt road through Cohutta and every back road in this part of the county. It is in this way that my childhood never felt rushed and I learned to simply enjoy the moments that I was in.
Summers came with long light, popsicles on the porch, dirty bare feet, mud pies from the creek, evenings of lightning bugs, baseball games on the radio, snake catching, and the favored mode of transportation for us youngins was our one speed bicycles with the pedals that would take the hide off of your shins. I have never felt the freedom as I did during an Appalachian childhood summer.
Time marches on and youngins grow into teens and the freedom of summer shifts more towards personal exploration and time with friends. By now, I had a part time job but days and evenings off were filled with personal time. We no longer had to be home when the streetlights came on, but instead roamed the mountain back roads under the cover of stars. We rode through Stanley Creek religiously, always looking out for deer, climbing Fall Branch Falls (before it was a tourist hole) barefoot, in our skivvies, to see who could make it to the top first, and wandering the tombstones of Tilley Bend to test the bravery of the group. Many a night was spent at the cable cars along the Toccoa River. We’d build a fire along the waters edge, sit around and dip snuff and tell stories, and from time to time, climb out the old cable to retrieve the metal car, bring it back and ride doubles across the river. There is a reason the cable cars were dismantled in later years. And I’m happy to say that with our group, only one finger was lost to the river.
We were the last generation to grow up completely without cell phones or tablets. We used pay phones to check in or make prank calls.
It was a time in life like no other. It was the freedom of unplugged childhood summers spent in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Moments that created a lifetime full of memories.