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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Lovin', Had Me A Blast

Are we all excited for summer vacation yet? I hope you are, because it's finally here! And, I'm sure that for many of you, you have plans for the summer. Whether you're hanging out at the mall sipping back Orange Julius beverages, lounging around at the beach hoping to get a little bit of a tan, or riding roller coasters until you vomit, I hope you enjoy yourselves.

Certainly, I have my own plans for the summer. I just attended the eighth grade graduation of two of my nephews a couple of days ago, and this August, I have a friend who is visiting from New York during my vacation away from my real job, so definitely expect to see a blog entry regarding that visit sometime this summer.

I don't know what it is about summer, but it just makes everything seem so much more fun. Buying Slush Puppies at the local gas station. Feeling the warm sunshine on your face. For kids who are young enough, getting two and a half months of freedom from school, homework, and evil teachers.

Summer's a great time for everyone.

So, I thought I'd talk about summers gone by, and how much I loved them. Because, that's basically what I mean by the note's title. The summer lovin' talks about how much I loved summer as a kid. Not about some Australian exchange student I fell in love with over one summer...or any summer romance that I may have had growing up because I never had one...but, you know, summer just began, so there's still hope for a summer fling...

...okay, now I'm going off on a tangent. I do that a lot.

Summertime for me was a great time as a kid. For one, being a kid who didn't have the greatest in-school memories, summer provided me two months of freedom to do whatever I so desired. I would have water balloon wars with people, I'd swim in my teeny-weeny Sesame Street kiddy pool (and don't laugh, that pool was cool until my dad accidentally plowed into it with the lawn mower and tore a hole in it.), and I'd walk over to Darling's Convenience Store and buy an ice cream and play Bubble Bobble. Sadly, Darling's has been replaced with a beauty salon, but I'll always remember the memories associated with that place.

I mean, let's face it. Summertime in the '80's was the absolute best (and by eighties, I mean the decade, not the temperature...though I guess both could apply).

The 1980's were also the summers that I probably remember the most.

Having been born and raised in a small town called Brockville, Ontario, I remember summers in the 1980's always being jam-packed with lots of activities and fun for people of all ages.

One of my favourite memories of Brockville summers that I can recall is the park program groups that I attended for six summers between 1987 and 1992 (or, if you want more detail, between the ages of six and eleven). They used to be run by the Brockville Parks & Recreation group and they were spread out in several different playgrounds. I don't quite remember all of the playgrounds that took part, but there was Toniata, Westmister, J.L. Jordan, Bramshot, and the program that I was a part of, Commonwealth. Okay, so technically, it was Commonwealth for 5 of the 6 summers I was there. In 1991, we were at the now torn down John Knox playground because Commonwealth was undergoing renovations in 1991, and lemme tell you, John Knox playground was so horrible in comparison to Commonwealth, as all they had for playground equipment were seesaws, a tunnel, and a basic set of monket bars...

...and, off I go on another tangent. If I do this again, please slap me. Hard.

As I was saying, I attended the Commonwealth group. To register for the park program, we were asked to join the playgrounds that were closest to where we lived. Since I was already a student at Commonwealth Public School at the time, it made perfect sense, right?

It proved to be quite bizarre as well. Whereas inside Commonwealth's hallways, I was always kind of treated like I was the uncool kid, or had leprosy or something, many of the kids who were in the playground group with me were very cool kids. The groups were for children aged 4-12, and there was a huge cross-section of kids of all ages. Certainly, the older kids hung out with the older kids, while the younger kids hung out with the younger kids, but when we all got together for group activities, we were all one group, and more importantly, we were all one group that got on well. That's not to say that we were all perfect fact, I can recall being a bit bratty in my younger days. But, that's par for the course. I mean, we were all kids once, right? Certainly going from one of the younger kids to five years later being one of the older definitely was quite a ride.

And, the park program was FUN!

Our camp leaders were always full of energy, and believe me they needed it to keep up with us kids! I don't remember all their names, but I do know a few. I guess Rebekah was one of the earliest ones I remember. Of course, I had known Rebekah for years prior, as she was one of my sister's best friends. Actually, speaking of which, my sister was also a program leader during the John Knox summer of '91, which was for the most part good (except when she caught me acting out...LOL). There was Elizabeth, who was probably with me for almost the whole run I was there, so she was probably the one I was closest to. I also remember a leader named Justine. The final year I was there, we had Shannon and Jennifer, who were also pretty cool. I can't seem to remember too many male program leaders though, which is a shame. But, the ones I do remember were special in their own way.  Yes, sister...even you.  :p

I guess the things I remember the most about the park program was that every single day was filled with surprises. We had theme weeks (Rock N Roll week, Transportation week, Colour week, etc) where we'd have costume contests and craft projects related to the week's theme. We also had special events based on what day of the week it was. For instance, on Tuesdays, we'd have a guest speaker come in to talk about nature and we'd make nature related crafts and play nature related games. Wednesdays we'd spend the afternoon at the Youth Arena where all six playgrounds would gather together for a mondo arts and crafts session. We'd draw pictures, and do all sorts of crafts like painting soda pop cans green and making them into frog statues (and yes, I still have mine). Thursdays we'd all head up to St. Lawrence Park for swimming. Good times.

We'd even take outings out of town. Annual trips to Crazy Horse at the 1000 Islands Camping Resort (which had a neat waterslide and mini golf course) and Studio 801/Celebrity Sportsworld in Kingston, Ontario (which sadly doesn't exist anymore, I believe) were things we all looked forward to.

Those park program memories are memories that I'll always treasure.

Another high point to look forward to was Riverfest and the Great Balloon Rodeo. The Great Balloon Rodeo was held just outside of town, and much like the name suggested, it was a festival that celebrated hot air balloons. There certainly was a lot of balloons both on the ground and in the air, and of course the kids in town would get toy balloons in all colours to play with. Of course, I hated balloons when they popped, so I never got any. There were also rides like the Scrambler and the Tilt-A-Whirl that one could ride on. Sadly, the festival is no longer in operation, which is a shame.

And then there's Riverfest. Only those people who would have grown up in the Leeds/Grenville area would have known what Riverfest used to be like, but let me tell you, it was so much fun.

For starters, it only cost $5 to get in for the entire TEN-DAY festival. Nowadays, it costs four times that much for a quarter of that length of time. But, back in the day, the cost was well worth it.

You got in with the annual Riverfest buttons. Here are a few examples of the buttons below:

As far back as I can remember, each year, the buttons were a different colour to prevent people from reusing them from year to year, though I could be mistaken. You will also notice that there is a 5-digit number on the bottom of the button. Every day, they'd draw a number at random at the CFJR booth for a prize. The final day of the festival had the best prize...usually a weekend getaway. I never won the button prizes, but I DID win a prize pack from a local restaurant years ago in a ballot box drawing. (The restaurant later closed down).

Sadly, the last year I can remember them using buttons was in 1995 (I've saved some of the old buttons, and 1995 is the most recent one I have). The next year, they used wristbands, which in my opinion was a substandard replacement...but anything to cut costs, I suppose.

Anyway, once you had your button, you were free to partake in any of the activities Riverfest had to offer. There were buskers down at Block House. Fireworks for Canada Day. The annual Riverfest parade on King Street. Sidewalk sales. Carnival midways. The whole nine yards.

The entertainment was very impressive, and I have to hand it to Brockville, back in the day, they did get some big names. Back in the day, I remember them having a lot of country acts like Crystal Gayle, Eddie Rabbitt, and Tommy Hunter...which seemed to please my parents moreso than me. But, then, we also had April Wine, Jann Arden, and the Barenaked Ladies, who I saw for Riverfest '96...or maybe it was '97...I can't remember. It was before their U.S. breakout in 1998...that much I know. Even recently, we have had Theory Of A Deadman, Hedley, INXS, and Finger Eleven come to Riverfest to perform.

Summertime in Brockville back in the day was awesome. It's just a real crying shame that summers in Brockville these days don't seem to be a good as they once were. I honestly feel sorry for children who live here now.

The park program that I used to attend as a kid no longer runs. I think 1995 was the last full year of it, and by then I was too old to attend. A shame too, because that would have been an awesome summer job for me, and then it would have been one of those full circle type things, where the kid grew up to be a counselor.

In fact, it seems to me that there aren't a lot of opportunities for kids to actually be kids in Brockville anymore. The park program is no more. St. Lawrence Park's waterfront seems to be closed more days than it is open. Riverfest had a great run for almost three decades, but the people of this community seem to have given up on that. I suppose we always have RibFest, a festival in which people can (and often do) eat as many portions of ribs, chicken, and blooming onions as they can possibly scarf down, but even that festival can get old. No wonder the kids in this town seem to be so restless. Aside from an outing at Walmart, there's not a whole lot for them to do in this town. It's very sad.

I wish there was at least a way to recapture some of the magic that I experienced during my summers here as a kid and bring it to some of the kids today. I think they deserve to have the summer that I grew up having.

And this leads to THURSDAY CONFESSION #26, which this video best explains.

Yes...the old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. But, at the same time, I'm not going to let the lack of things to do in this town stop me from enjoying this summer. Besides, my friend who is visiting me in August has plotted and schemed to make sure that she gets me to see more good about the place I call home.

I accept the challenge, Sharyn D. Bring it on.

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