Its that time of year again, a time that evokes memories of summers long ago. The final bell of the school year had rung just over a month ago and you had long since settled into that carefree summer haze. Today had been a day just like any other and your daily exploits had once again carried you to the far reaches of the neighborhood, perhaps to engage in a nice game of hide-N-go-seek or freeze tag with your neighborhood pals, or perhaps your pleasure had been a pickup game of football in a vacant lot, or maybe you and your best friend had decided to take on the roles of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and join in the never-ending battle against he Dark Side. Whatever pursuit had occupied the daylight hours it was now 5:00pm and time to make the long journey home for supper. However, as you make the trek through the neighborhood streets back to your home you detect a familiar sound, ftt-ftt- ftt-ftt tic,tic,tic,tic,tic,tic,tic ftt-ftt-ftt-ftt tic,tic,tic,tic,tic,tic,tic
you take a look around and see it right there in ol' Mr. McGillicutty's* front yard the creme de la creme of summertime play, the garden sprinkler.*Mr. McGillicutty is not an actual person but an amalgam of all middle aged suburbanites who are obsessed with keeping a perfectly green lawn
You had no idea where it came from or what purpose it was meant to serve, all you knew was that it faithfully appeared each year in late June or early July and as far you were concerned its sole reason for being was to provide you with a nice opportunity to beat the scorching summer heat. Maybe you were lucky enough that your own personal Mr. McGillicutty was the kindly sort who would simply take a break from sipping lemonade with his wife to wave and say -Hiya kids getting along ok?
Burgess Meredith as Kindly Mr. McGillicutty
but even if you got the grumpy sort of Mr. McGillicutty who would shake his fist while wailing -Dang kids, look what you're doing' to my lawn
- Some random cartoon character as grumpy Mr. McGillicutty
it would serve as no deterrent. Try to resist if you would but is was no use, within seconds you were off your bike and running toward its cool refreshing streams. For there is no force in the universe that can prevent a well watered lawn from turning into this scene.
While the garden sprinkler came in many shapes and forms there were two varieties that I believe are by far the most common and most recognizable. The first of these which I have always referred to as The Strait Shooter
consisted of a single stalk with a nozzle that moved in anything from a quarter to a full circle emitting a single stream of water in controlled bursts. The Strait Shooter
Its firing pattern rather resembled that of a machine gun and to my childlike mind, which was never content with the mundane, that is exactly what it became. Yes, from the moment my friends and I entered Mr. McGillicutty's front lawn we instantly became highly trained commandos on a mission to penetrate enemy lines and get past their top secret super machine gun. The catch was that in this game we were determined to lose. That's right, as our true desire was to get as wet as possible we all ultimately allowed ourselves to one by one be gunned down by the enemy. I know that seems a bit morbid and depressing, but rest assured that we did sometimes put a more positive twist on the story and pretended to be Superman as we fearlessly walked toward the machine gun as the aquatic bullets reflected harmlessly off our chests. So win or lose either way we got that much desired break from the summers oppressive heat and managed to arrive at supper late and sopping wet.
The second common model of water sprinkler is the one I like to call The Overhead Flinger
This variety consisted of a curved metal rode positioned within a frame that shot multiple streams of water strait upward as it moved back and forth in a rocking pattern. The Overhead Flinger
This model evoked less violent imagery to our young minds as it tended to serve not as a weapon but as a portal to another dimension, a dimension into which we needed to travel ASAP for God knows what reason, and then for some reason it became necessary to pass back and forth between the two dimensions as quickly as possible. Why? Who knows, the idea was to get as wet as possible and as long as this was accomplished the game itself did not need to make sense.
So as you can see, or hopefully as you remember, the garden sprinkler in itself was always able to provide hour upon hour of entertainment. None the less, the Toy Executives, being the clever buggers that they are, quickly realized that they could cash in on this old time tradition and thus a variety of water toys came into being. The first of these that I will mention was a little weeble like character known as Willy Waterbug
Sporting a polka dotted vest and bow tie our pudgy little insectoid friend shot jets of water in all directions from a multitude of whip-like tentacles that protruded from his head. If used properly this cute little guy could provide hours of fun; but woe be to the child who got the idea that it would be fun to jump over Willys head, for while Willy looked harmless enough this act certainly would evoke his wrath as the hapless child would find his legs and inner thighs being pelted with several tiny whips in a manner that would put Indiana Jones to shame (To this day I still bear the scars form attempting sucah a feat). None the less, once you learned to properly fear and respect this cute little critter Willy Waterbug put a new twist on the age old practice of running through a sprinkler and could provide hours of enjoyment on a hot summers day, while at the same time sparing good ol' McGillicuttys lawn.
The next water toy that I would like to mention departed somewhat from the idea of running through a sprinkler, and redefined the purpose as running and diving headlong into it. This toy was none other than Wham-Os ever popular Slip N Slide
The scientific genius behind this product was based on the principle that when plastic gets wet it becomes slippery. This amazing piece of technology consisted of a flat strip of yellow plastic flanked by tubular folds with perforations and emitted streams of water onto the plastic sheet, thus making it slippery and allowing children leap onto in and slide along its length (and sometimes further). There was also a similar product known as the Wet Banana
which was essentially identical to the Slip N Slide
but came with the luxurious feature of a large plastic banana which shot steams of water onto the plastic strip in lieu of the tubular folds.
It sounds simple I know, but these products could actually provide hours of fun and excitement and really make for an enjoyable summers afternoon give or take a grass cut or ten.
While the various water toys were not without their charm IMHO they still never could quite outdo the good old fashioned garden sprinkler. Running through the sprinklers (whether invited to or not) was always one of my most longed after activates of summer vacation. It is amazing how such a simple piece of lawn care equipment could be the source of so many of my cherished childhood memories. I am proud to have been a part of this time honored tradition and feel confident that as long as the Sun continues to shine it will continue to threaten the lawns of the Mr. McGillicuttys of the world and thus the tradition shall live on for ages to come.