07/27/2013 08:05 am ET Updated Sep 26, 2013

Summer Heat In The '70s: Water, Sweet Water


Recently, many areas of the country have been dealing with a heat wave. High temps + high humidity = misery. Made me wonder why summer was my favorite season growing up in the 1970s. Oh yeah -- no school! But why wasn't I miserable on those hot and humid days?

Water! We played in the water.

The quick fix was the trusty garden hose. Unravel a suitable length, turn the handle, put your thumb over the opening and bam! -- you could have anything from a fine mist to a stream that could soak from a respectable distance. If your friend had control of the hose, and you had enough, just grab a section and fold it in half -- the water would stop flowing. Thirsty? No need to dry off and go inside for a glass of water -- who has time for that? Just drink right from the hose!

You could also ask permission to use the sprinkler. Hook that baby up, turn it on and the next thing you knew half the kids on the block were in your yard. I think the permission was mostly about not putting the sprinkler in the same section of the lawn each time. Wearing a muddy groove in the grass could only bring trouble. I think the moms had a secret summer schedule: rotate the hosting house, sprinkler placement and Kool-Aid. That facilitated cool kids, happy dads and beautiful lawns.

The next step up was a neighbor's pool. The few who had them had the above-ground, circular kind. I remember being in one before I could even doggie paddle. I just held on to the edge, and used my hands to kind of "walk" around the perimeter. My parents would have to pry my wrinkled fingertips from the edge when my lips turned blue.

When I got older, I was allowed to walk down to the park and catch the bus to the park district public pools. It was the first time I tasted freedom and responsibility. You had to be aware of the time for the bus schedule, and carry extra money for the locker and a hot dog. I loved the underground pool -- so big I couldn't swim the length underwater, in one breath. That became my goal.

And diving boards! The low ones were fun, but the high dive was a test. If you climbed the ladder, and walked to the end of the board, you had better jump off. Sure, you risked some pain if you didn't hit the water right. But if you chickened out and had to make everyone behind you climb down the ladder -- well, now you were a coward, and therefore a target.

The ultimate way to play in the water was swimming in Lake Michigan. This occurred on family vacations, in either Wisconsin or Michigan. On one of my favorites, we drove east to stay in a cottage, near the border of Michigan and Indiana. It wasn't nice weather when we arrived, and that night there were heavy thunderstorms. The next morning, I awoke to blue skies and sunshine. No one else wanted to go swimming yet, but my brother agreed to keep an eye on me.

We got to the beach, and my jaw dropped at the size, sound and fury of the waves. John said something like "undertow" and went looking for signs to see if the beach was closed.

What? How could you close the beach?

He explained about currents, and being pulled in the opposite direction; "out to sea" as it were, and blah, blah blah. No signs? I'm swimming.

I approached the shoreline, and carefully waded in. I felt the water draw outward, away from my legs -- only to gather, return and crash upon the shore. The farther out, the stronger the pull. I reached a distance where I could still touch bottom and turn back towards shore to catch a wave. At first, it was like body surfing. The wave would knock me towards the shore, then I'd stand up and wade out again. Quickly, the waves grew, hit harder and made me feel like a baby sock in an industrial washer. I had no control over my direction or time under water. Thankfully, the pull switched to up-and-down the shoreline as opposed to further out. Finally, I was held under so long I truly thought I would drown. It took everything I had to break the pull and walk ashore.

I sat next to my brother and toweled off. He asked if I had enough, because he wouldn't mind going back. He was kind of surprised when I immediately agreed, expecting protest.

Nah, I think I saw a hose at the cottage.