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Hot summers full of fond memories

Now that summer is finally here (as of one week ago today) and we’ve had the hot weather up here in the North County to go with it, I have been thinking about those blistering hot days growing up in the San Joaquin Valley.

It is safe to say that of the first 18 years of my life, half were spent in a small-town setting (sidewalks, lawns, trees and houses side by side) and the other half on small farms (chickens, grapes and dairy cows).

My dad was reared on a farm in Nebraska and always liked the farm life. But he earned his living in sales with major feed companies and finally, for about 25 years, in real estate and building homes. That meant my brother and I did many of the chores, such as feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, tilling the vineyard, irrigating and more.

I remember that the start of summer for us kids was the day school ended. The first order of business was to get a butch haircut. Nobody had long hair in those days anyway, but it felt good to get almost all of it cut off. You didn’t grow it back until just before school opened again in the fall.

Then there was the summer dress, which consisted of swim trunks or blue jeans. I don’t remember wearing cutoffs or shorts. What I do remember is wearing no shoes for much of the summer.

Living in town, it was the hot concrete and asphalt that burned your feet. Many of those little Valley towns have very wide streets, so getting from one curb to the other was painful. And in the country, it was the sand that burned.

In those days, we irrigated by flooding small ditches we plowed into each vineyard row. Fortunately, we’ve learned water-saving practices in today’s world.

But to keep our feet from burning, we would walk in the muddy ditches. That cold water pumped from the ground felt so good. And when you wanted a drink, you’d poke your face right into the valve where the water was being delivered. I always got a belly ache from drinking so much of that cold water.

When the fruit was ripe, such as the grapes, we’d pick a bunch and lay it in the water to cool them down. I can still remember how good those Thompson Seedless grapes tasted as I sat beneath a cluster of vines on a hot day eating them.

For most of the summer, we wore no shirts, so we got very, very brown. We never thought about sunscreen in those lazy days of summer.

Now I wear a hat.

And God gave me a permanent short haircut that lasts all year.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529 or