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Published September 29, 2020



Summer magic at grandma’s

By John Toth / The Bulletin

With the days getting shorter and even the Gulf Coast summer days winding down, my favorite season is coming to a close.

I can’t remember a single bad summer I’ve had all my life, but if I had to pick the best ones, they’d have to be the two summers I spent with my paternal grandmother in a small, one-bedroom bungalow on the outskirts of Budapest.

Grandma agreed to keep me and one of my cousins for a few weeks to allow us city boys to get a feel for country living of sorts while my parents enjoyed whatever they did without me. While we were still within the reach of public transportation, the outskirts of town were a lot like the country back in those days. There were dirt roads and trails, an outhouse and a well.

We walked to the post office and the market with grandma and to a cemetery at the bottom of a hill, where some of her relatives were buried. She had worn black ever since I could remember. Mother said she had worn black since her husband disappeared during WWII.

After our daily excursions, my cousin and I immersed ourselves in the imaginary world of two boys who never let themselves be bored.

We played cops and robbers, boat captain (we built a 3-D outline of a boat from the dirt in the front yard) and whatever else our imaginations could muster. Grandma wasn’t all that preoccupied with us. At the end of the day after we got really dirty, we went back to the bungalow and got cleaned up, pumping water from a well into a wash tub. We went to bed each night worn out from our self-imposed activities, and the next day we started it all over again.

Grandma bought a big watermelon one day and invited her neighbors to a big party. I ate so much watermelon that I felt like my stomach would blow up. Then I burped and ate some more.

Grandma didn’t believe she should pay more for a dead chicken when the live ones were cheaper. She could take care of that sort of business herself. The problem was that I got attached to the chicken after grandma brought it home and went to bed without eating dinner several times.

One day my cousin decided that it would be a good idea to sneak out of the yard and go to the corner store. We were eight years old. We bought some inexpensive candies. Nobody was concerned that we were by ourselves; it was summer. We could have gone anywhere, but we rushed back to the house.
We had a lot of freedom at grandma’s house. We went to the store several times after that since we realized that there was little risk to it. One day, though, as we left the store, grandma was waiting for us outside.

We didn’t get a spanking or any sort of punishment. She was just relieved that we turned up. Apparently, she was searching all over the neighborhood for us. We didn’t even get a big lecture. But we did have to promise that we would never do that again. We did and promised away part of our summer freedom.

After two summers of adventure and exploration at grandma’s house and enjoying the country, things changed. Grandma was having respiratory problems. We woke up to her hacking and wheezing in the mornings. She reassured us that everything was alright, but it wasn’t.

She could only handle one of us and decided to keep my cousin the next summer. His mother was a single mom and needed the help more than my parents. I was sent to summer day camp, where I had a great time going places, but it was nothing like the self-made adventures at grandma’s bungalow.

I saw her only a couple of times after that before my mother and I flew across the Atlantic Ocean and started our new lives in the New World.

I went back to the bungalow many years later. Grandma had died. My cousin, who spent the summers there with me, lived in the little house with his wife and young daughter. The place looked different. It even had indoor plumbing. But everywhere I turned I saw two little mischievous boys plotting their next adventure.

Then the bungalow was demolished to make way for a bigger and more modern house. Where grandma’s bungalow once stood was a garage and storage shed. The outhouse was gone. That wasn’t a big loss, though. The cat and dog in the yard were long gone. The yard got smaller, and the rows of wonderful-smelling flowers grandma had grown were gone.

Even the dirt road leading to the cemetery was gone, along with the cemetery. The market was no longer there. The corner store - gone.

But my memories of our daily adventures remain vivid, replayed at times during the hottest of summer days.

The magic of summer never ends. It just gets put on hold for a while as we return to our real lives.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)