The letters SOS were always part of our school vacations when my brothers Phil and Dave and I were growing up. However, they had a different meaning for us than for Mother.
After putting up with us throughout the summer, she would send urgent SOS messages to the school board to please consider starting school before Labor Day instead of after it.
For us, though, SOS meant the sounds of summer. Before we get to those, let’s start with one sound that was not on the list.
Mother didn’t have to come into the bedroom my brothers and I shared a half dozen to a dozen times each morning to keep reminding us it was time to get up.
Much to her frustration, she didn’t have to follow the routine she did throughout the 180 mornings of school days. In the summer, we were up and ready to go at least a half hour before the time we were still dead to the world before school.
Probably the first sound of summer of the day (if you don’t count my brothers and me arguing over who would get the prize in the bottom of the cereal box) was a “yo.”
In the days before cell phones and texting, “yo” was the primary means of communicating with our neighborhood buddies.
It was a simple yet effective method that did not require batteries but did entail a short walk.
We would go to a kid’s house and keep yelling, “Yo, Stinky! Yo, Stinky!” until Stinky came out, his mom came out and told us Stinky was finishing his breakfast or Stinky’s next-door neighbor emerged to asked us to please go and make noise somewhere else.
While we were out “yo-ing” throughout the neighborhood, Mother got a bit of a break. However, that was short-lived before another SOS began that must have been as never-wracking as a dripping faucet late at night.
Although we guys kept ourselves occupied outdoors, that didn’t stop my brothers and me coming home for something to drink or snack on. This resulted in the repeated sound of the slamming screen door.
The hard part for Mother other than hearing the screen door bang dozens of times a day was that she never knew when the next bang would occur. Twenty minutes of welcome silence would suddenly be broken by a screen door slam.
The only periods when she didn’t hear the door banging were mealtimes when Mother had to add her own SOS to call us in to eat.
She didn’t have to use “yo” when she called our litany of names — “Walter, Philip, David!” Always hungry, we usually came running.
Also, we didn’t want her to have to resort to calling our full names because we were too wrapped in a game of tag football on the street. Hearing her yell “Walter Kozlowski! Lunch!” was great motivation for getting home ASAP.
One SOS that we didn’t respond to was the result of the original conehead — Mr. Softee. Like all kids, we could hear the familiar jingle “The Whistler and His Dog” being played by the blue and white ice cream truck when it was a half mile away.
We knew from experience, though, that we weren’t going to join the mob of neighborhood kids rushing toward Mr. Softee because our folks weren’t going to let us buy ice cream when we already had it in the freezer.
As a result, we would wait until the other guys finished heir cones or sundaes and cross the street to the school for a few hours of the SOS featuring the slapping of sneaker soles on macadam and arguing over what game to play.
As darkness descended, we would hear the 9 o’clock curfew whistle sounded from a fire company roof and reluctantly head home. But we soon heard the sweetest SOS — slurping bittersweet ice cream from cones.