Enjoying the Weed – What a Difference a Generation Makes!
July 4th was a scorching hot day for me. I find it increasingly difficult to deal with blindingly sunny days and heat indices past 100°! I spent the day in the house with the air conditioning pumped up and just relaxed all day. I was able to find a station that was airing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” with James Cagney, so needless to say, I enjoyed that bit of nostalgia for part of the day.
As I sat with an ice cold bottle of water, I began to think once again about how we dealt with the hot summer days of our youth. That’s when I began thinking about “weed,” and realized that the word “weed” has taken on a whole new meaning since I was a kid. With the passing of one generation, “weed” has gone from a source of frustration for gardeners, to a source of illicit enjoyment to an entirely different community of people.
To the kids in my neighborhood, “enjoying the weed” had yet another meaning. Allow me to explain:
As you know, my childhood home was on Thomas Street, across from Kopriver’s on Kennedy/Texas Ave. There were only 11 homes on the street which ended at the entrance to St. Joseph’s Cemetery. If you were to view the cemetery today, you would find that the unused fields that lead to the crest of the hill are kept neatly trimmed and leveled.
This was not the case when I was growing up. Those same fields were overgrown areas of weeds. Some sections of weeds were trampled and cleared by kids in an attempt to create an area to play baseball, whiffle ball and other field games. However, the majority of the remaining space was an overgrown home to every type of weed imaginable.
I recall that on some of the hotter days of summer, we would retreat to an area along the west side of the cemetery that was partially shaded by the trees growing in the backyards of the homes along Mellon Street. There, we would spread out a sheet or old bedspread that one of our mother’s gave us to use, lay down on the covering and enjoy its coolness as we stretched out. Occasionally, one of our moms would give us a plastic pitcher with water and some ice and some Dixie cups. We’d ration out the water since we were planning to stay put and beat the heat all afternoon.
As we lay on our back staring up at the sky with its blazing sun, we would often begin our respite by trying to identify shapes in the clouds. You really had to have quite an imagination to visual some of the shapes we came up with, but that was half the fun. It wouldn’t be long before we tire of that game and just turn over onto our stomachs.
Once we were lying on our stomachs, our hands would start to explore the grassy area surrounding the blanket. That would normally signal the time that we would start to enjoy the weeds that grew in abundance throughout the cemetery. Someone would inevitably tear off a blade of a weed that I have come to learn is called a Giant Foxtail. They would sandwich it carefully in between their two thumbs and raise it to their mouth. After a few adjustments and some well-placed spit and a steady blowing, the make-shift instrument would begin to produce a sound similar to a kazoo. Not to be outdone, we would all grab a blade of foxtail and go through the same process to be able to join in the fun.
We would sit there and try to synchronize and harmonize to some tune we might all know. Since this was prior to any of us being interested in the Top 40 hits, our repertoire would be limited to a song such as Farmer in the Dell or Old Suzanna. Most of us would play the tune and some “unfortunate one” among us would have to sing.
braidedBuckhorn Plantain seemed to be everyone’s favorite weed. Of course, we never called them by that name; in fact I don’t think we ever called them by any name. They were just weeds to us. We never had to stray too far to grab a bunch of these weeds. We would proceed to have a mini war with each other with our newly found “weapons.” We would wrap the stems around the heads and then proceed to pop the caps off at each other. I’m sure that if our parents saw us doing this, we would have gotten into trouble for spreading weed seeds far and wide. If we happened to be playing with any girls in our group, while the boys focused on mortal combat, the girls would carefully craft braided bracelets out of the stems.
Milkweed plants, as mentioned in a previous posting, were also a source of entertainment. We would try to gather enough of ripened milkweed pods that were on the verge of popping open to spew their seeds across the fields. We would gather together to begin popping the pods open in unison in order to create something that resembled a summertime snowfall with all of the seeds wisping about!
Newly developed pods were not safe from our probing little hands either. We would gather the new pods onto our blanket and systematically proceed to peel the outer casings to reveal “innards” that resembled a scaly fish. Our quest was to be the one to find the pod that contained the biggest “fish.” As we
opped open the pods and dug out the “fish” inside, our fingers began to get increasingly gooey and sticky from the white sap that ran through the plant. A quick trip to one of the faucets that were spread throughout the cemetery was in quick order after we were done with our contest and had declared a winner of our big fish contest.
As I was trying to find appropriate pictures of milkweed pods, I came across a blog where I learned that milkweed can actually be eaten. The blog’s author described the taste as follows:
“Flavor-wise, milkweed pods are really a lot like asparagus. Soft and just slightly sweet. They’re very earthy and “fresh” tasting, and obviously very… vegetable. Stuffing the pods is just one way to enjoy this mid-summer treat.”
Actually, they look pretty tempting; however I could only imagine bringing a basketful of these to some hunky grandma in Duquesne and asking her to make dinner with them!! But then again, milkweed stuffed with cheese, kielbasa on a bed of halushki…..mmmmm, maybe? If you would like to check out more about using milkweed as a food source, just CLICK HERE
When it came down to imagination, we certainly were able to kick ours into full gear during those hot, lazy, summer days. Fresh air was our constant companion, and the thought of spending a day indoors was pure torture for us. Video games, computers, and TV with 100’s of channels have stolen the healthy joy of outdoor play for today’s youth.
When you think about it, its not hard to understand how generations were able to extract such delight from just paying with weeds instead of smoking them!
I remember all those weeds you describe Jim and the “weeding the yard” which I really hated to do. Seemed endless since no matter how many you pulled, more came up! One thing I realized after I moved from Duquesne, is that most of the country used fertilizer on their “lawns”. We never did and had great green growth. Discovered that all that soot the mill was spewing was good grass fertilizer. When I visited my home a few years after the mill shut down, I saw what “no soot” did to the grass. Pretty bare and worn looking. For 20 years I lived on 8 acres with woods, meadow, stream, and pond. I think I was so attracted to that because, like the rest of you, we played on concrete and alleys, and occasionally into the cementary for some green. I would go out and “play” in my woods and think about how great it would have been to have that as a kid. Then my friends kids came by and immediately wanted to go inside to use the computer… What happened!!!
Jim, Two sides to every story. I do remember making “nature’s musical instrument” from blades of weeds or grass (hm, “grass”, that’s another word that’s been usurped) but what stands out in my memory regarding weeds is having to pull them. As a form of discipline (punishment if you will) for some transgression or another, my parents would often send me out to pull weeds from the lawn. Od course, we didn’t call it “the lawn” in those days – it was “the yard” where we played all sorts of outdoor games,.e.g., whip, mother-may-I, statue, tag (it), buck,buck how many fingers up, catching lightning bugs, etc., etc. Do you see many children playing in their yards today? Back to pulling weeds. The weed I hated most was one we called “pig weeds” Pig weed roots must have found their way all the way to China. Where were all the chemical weed killers that we now have way back then and even if they were available what lessons would have been learned by sprinkling a herbicide on the weed as opposed to getting down on your hands and knees and digging those suckers out with whatever tool you could find for what seemed like hours on end (in reality, the discipline probably only lasted 15 minutes or so).