I look at my grandsons this summer and cannot help but feel sorry for them. They are cramming all they can into summer vacation – this includes a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame with a stopover in the Big Apple.
Yet I still feel a pang for them, for no matter how hard the try to cram a summer full of experiences, it is still a truncated summer break.
It pales before any summer of my childhood. It’s simple mathematics. In my day, we got out of school June 1, and returned the Monday after Labor Day. My grandsons get back in the harness in early August.
They don’t get a summer vacation, they get a parole. If a kid plays baseball, that about covers it.
When I was young and Eisenhower was president, we had a summer you could sink your teeth into. When I got out in June, it was an endless stretch of days before the school days opened again. There was no rush to do anything.
There was time to take a week for Y-camp. A city kid like me actually got into a canoe, slept out around a campfire and swam in a lake. I brought home a welter of “gifts,” which were the fruits of “arts and crafts” period. These included a paint-by-number Indian chief, a lanyard – I had no idea what one did with a lanyard – and a clay ashtray that I hand-painted for my parents.
And that was just the first week of June. There was time for a baseball season – they didn’t have travel ball teams then – and then you got on to the heart of vacation: the annual family trip. We often went to a cabin in the mountains, perhaps with another couple and their kids. So playmates were built in.
There was this thing called souvenirs, which were like birthday presents, only you could get up to one a day. It might be a rubber tomahawk with feathers on it, a whistle (which usually “disappeared” by the end of that day) or a picture book designed to keep me quiet for an hour or so.
Then it was time to visit the grandparents, which began with an adventurous two-day drive to Georgia. There we had numerous cousins to entertain us and daily pilgrimages to the city pool.
We didn’t have a farmers market to go to in my grandparents’ small town. But a 10-minute drive outside of town, you had farms. For fresh eggs and vegetables, we would just drive up to a farmhouse and see what they had.
This meant I got to run around the place checking out the animals and talking with the farm kids.
I had an aunt and uncle who liked to take motor trips and took me on a couple of them. My uncle was a history buff, so that meant hitting Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, which was “neato” (that’s “way cool”) in my book.
We would also stop to look at the natural wonders and on one memorable trip got as far as Niagara Falls.
Now I understand the educational reasoning behind the shortened summer vacation. We need to keep the little ones from suffering a brain drain over the long break. They might get a little rusty and not do quite so well for the standardized tests that rule our children’s lives these days.
And we have to be sure to get fall semester over by winter break, so that their grades don’t fall off by taking 10 days off before finals.
I say bunk. Looking back, I got a lot of my education during those long, hot summers and I didn’t even know I was learning anything. But kicking over the traces and getting the chance to look at the world from a different angle taught me a lot.
I met people who did things differently, lived differently from the people in my neighborhood. I learned a lot about this country I never found in books. I strengthened the bonds of family, and during spells just hanging around the house, I learned to amuse myself.
We should take every Xbox and its ilk and burn them. They destroy imagination and creativity in children and all they get in return is a curious manual dexterity.
Summer vacation? What children have today isn’t worthy of the name.