I grew up in a small town in Northern California, raised by hippies (as everyone was in the 70’s in Chico). The summers got blazing hot, 120 degrees wasn’t unheard of. We weren’t one of the fancy folks that had air conditioning, but we were lucky enough to have a swamp cooler. You know, a built in fan that you connect your hose to. Problem is, it was only cool when you were standing directly in front of it and lifted your shirt up to trap the cool air.
On weekends, we’d go to the creek. We went to Lower Bidwell Park a lot, that’s where One Mile was. The city built a concrete swimming pool of sorts, only with two sides. The creek that ran through town flowed into it on one end, and the other end was a dam. The kind of dam that lets some water through, but slower than if the dam wasn’t there. There was a shallow end where the creek bed ended and the concrete began, and a deep end where the dam was. The current got very fast there, there were many times my sister and I were afraid we’d get sucked down the dam into the other section of the creek.
Lower Park was great, but our favorite was Upper Park. We’d usually go with our favorite family friends. The two mom’s would pack big lunches with “soda” (Lemon Lime Hansen’s…we were never ever allowed real soda like Coke or Dr Pepper), sandwiches, chips, fruit. We had to drive down a dirt and gravel road for what seemed like forever, especially since we had to keep the windows rolled up in our ’58 Chevy so the dust wouldn’t fly in. It got so hot in that car! Once we (finally) made it to the makeshift parking lot of our favorite swimming hole, we had to hike down. This wasn’t a stroll, folks. It was a full on hike. Straight down. Through shrubs and poison oak, and rocks, on a trail that was formed from other trailblazing hippies before us just needing to cool down and relax for the day. We all had to carry our own towels and help carry the cooler that had all the food. Once we got to the swimming hole, we had to swim across the freezing creek to where the little beach was. With our towels on our heads, hoping the current didn’t make us drop everything in the water.
Did I mention these were usually nude beaches? We were hippies, if you recall. My sister and I were little, and we had been coming here for so long, so it was pretty normal for us to see the random person swimming naked. (Us being some of the few that were in bathing suits, of course! Except for when we were babies, but babies are supposed to run around naked, right?)
Us kids would spend the day swimming in the creek, using the giant, flat moss-coated rocks as water slides, trying to catch dragonflies & frogs, and forging our own trails in the cliffs around us, exploring for new swimming holes. Meanwhile our mom’s were taking a much needed break from us crazy kids and work, talking, laughing, laying out and swimming. We came back to the beach to let the sun warm us for a bit when our teeth were chattering from the freezing mountain water.
When we were all sunburned and wiped out from swimming & exploring all day, we gathered all our stuff together, including some random rocks we wanted to keep, and made our way back across the water, hiked up the now even tougher trail to the top, loaded up in the car, then headed back to town. We almost always landed at Shuberts before going home. Shuberts was (still is, actually) an ice cream parlour and candy shop in Downtown Chico. It’s been there forever, and has the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever tasted. It was always packed with people, so while my mom waited in line, we’d wander around the candy shop and convince her we needed to get those flat, soft mints. The littlest of us didn’t fully know how to lick the sides of her ice cream so it wouldn’t drip down her hands, so her older sister would do it for her. More ice cream for her!
Every year when summer rolls around, that’s where my heart goes. Crazy hot summers spent at the creek with our best friends. We moved away when I was 11. I haven’t been back in years. There’s a whole new generation of kids up there, making their own summer memories. What’s your summer memory? What do you think back on when a new summer approaches?