Back to school in olden days meant more



I know all the reasoning behind having the children in school before August has its britches on, but that doesn’t make it right.

I remember those good old school days when September to May seemed like a prison sentence. Oh, we got out for good behavior at Christmas time, and spring break – all three days of it – was a brief respite.

Then Golden June arrived – the golden prize. June, my birthday month. But the biggest gift was summer vacation, stretching over vast oceans of days. Yes, June was only 30 days, but it did have a birthday squirreled away, and that was the next best thing to Christmas. Then came July, hot baking July, only to be followed by merciless August. Heat and summer were soul mates, so you accepted the one to get the other. Air conditioning came later.

Little wonder we lived at the municipal pool. Endless games of Shark, Prison Break and Marco Polo to cool our fevered brows. There was the odd Y Camp and a vacation that was interesting – if we ever, ever got there.

Pickup baseball games were huge fun. Nobody had ever heard of travel teams. We just traveled up to the vacant lot. Whoever had a glove could play and whoever had a bat or a ball was captain.

As August days spilled by like sands from an hourglass, there was a bit of remorse setting in. That tree fort never got finished, not after Spencer broke his arm – again. We were going to sell ant farms in glass jars full of dirt and get rich and go to Disneyland.

Who knew when you fed the ants bread, the mold would kill them?

Usually though there was a proud accomplishment, a shining moment with a new skill added – diving head-first off the high dive, roller skating that first time. I learned to ride a bike in the summertime and found what true liberation was. And even as August’s last embers flared and died out, there was still Labor Day’s brief reprieve before the salt mines beckoned.

Today’s miners have to climb aboard the Big Yellow Cheese when they return to their labors. In my day, schools were built to be walked to, so that is what we did. Oh, a thousand diversions would present themselves walking to school.

There was the dachshund in the backyard surrounded by a chain-link fence that used bark at me until we made friends and I could pet him by just squeezing my hand through the links. You could always count on making Karen Loveless mad about something. She was 12 years old and the oldest of three brothers and a sister so she thought she knew everything.

Coming home after school was best. That is when I would visit one of my Cookie Ladies. Those old Greeks had their Muses, and their Furies and their Fates. But Cookie Ladies were just fine for me and about as magical.

I don’t know where or when I acquired the gift of listening, but I knew I had it. And I knew that if you sit quietly enough, with a dash of patience and a dollop of interest that people will talk to you for about as long as you want to be talked to.

For me that was about three cookies.

Now I didn’t really understand that a grandmotherly type sitting on her front porch watching all of the children walking home from school might be just a tad lonely.

I just naturally liked to walk up to strangers just to hear what they would say. What these ladies would hear me say was, “Do you have a cookie today?”

There were three of them on the way home. One smelled real nice, and one had the best cookies and one told the best stories. I felt that was about the right mix. I would never stop at any one Cookie Lady twice in a row. And I would always change up who just got one visit in a week.

That seemed like the optimal arrangement, cookie-wise. And as I said, I developed a talent for listening.

I discovered something else about listening. I got to where I would listen to adults talk to each other, and try to follow what they were saying. I was especially good at getting my radar out when they were trying to “speak over” me so I wouldn’t understand. I would.

But the amazing thing was when I made to leave, they would always say, “What a smart little boy you are.”

And maybe I was. I don’t listen near as well today. When I’m with my grandsons, I do just about all the talking. But they listen right along, and sometimes ask a question or they might just nod. Then we go to the Dairy Queen for ice cream.

But those are two smart young fellas.

But I’m off the rails a bit. What my grandsons and the young people of today are losing out on by getting such a jump on education are long, hot summer days that always seemed filled with unplanned adventures.

The summers they have today, crammed into a sardine can eight weeks long, hardly get to stretch their legs. Shoot, today’s summers aren’t a patch on the days we would turn back in as hardly used.

Those were days like Sundays, when you were all morning at church, then a big Sunday dinner that left you so stuffed, you just lazed around the yard till suppertime and got to eat Sunday dinner all over again.

Bless me, those days barely had the shine wore of them. Send those days to the poor kids in Africa to use.

As for this year’s crop of scholars, it’s enough to know they are back on the roads and we should all slow down and watch for them getting on and off the Big Cheese. The only good thing is, they just don’t know what they missed out on.

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