2013-08-22 / Editorial Page

Dear Hearts and Gentle People

Missing summer 2013
By MICKIE MCGEE

School has started and we haven’t even had a summer. It’s bad enough when the stores start putting out Christmas things in August; Mother Nature has not cooperated with us this month. It’s been more like April…you know, April showers and all that.

Augusta Mall is not ashamed one bit to dress its dummies in fall attire and even Christmas woolery. I used to call all this The Incredible Shrinking Summer.

Seems school starts earlier and earlier each year; now we run the risk of falling off the fashion train if we aren’t completely outfitted for Montana winters by September.

Just where did our summers go, those long, lazy ones of my childhood? Why, we didn’t even start school until after Labor Day! Oddly enough, we still managed to get in the mandated 180 school days. How was that possible?

Oh, I understand we have added a few momentous holidays to our calendar of celebrations: Devil/ Tiger Game Eve; Winter, the First Four Snowflakes of the New Year; and, used to be, the first pumpkin in Mr. Edwin Drinkard’s pumpkin patch.

Don’t get me wrong. Those occasions can evoke a few tears from my own eyes but I really do miss summer.

Time was when summers seemed endless. Long hot days melted into sticky warm nights; shadows grew longer, and the smells of a dozen suppers wafted through the air as the neighborhood kids listened for the sound of their names in the distance.

“Bett-EEEE!” Miss Sara Spratlin would call, her voice echoing through the trees that separated her house from ours. Similar squeals would beckon us all until all were fed and just as the lightening bugs made a mad descent overhead we were all outside again.

Darkness was never a deterrent to fun or safety in those days. It was our friend, allowing us to play kick-the-can, and to hide out beside the creek and smoke Catawba cigarettes.

We could climb a tree and look in folks’ windows (it was legal then) and pinch the lit tails off the lightening bugs for rings. (Please don’t send me letters. I was only a child, and if you were really brave or really ugly you could sneak a kiss or two in the dark from the Hunk-onthe Week, while hiding underneath Doc and Margaret’s house.

We formed clubs, played house, jumped rope, roller skated on the courthouse square, told ghost stories, watched the stars, had pajama parties, slept late, and ate dirt. We were the best of friends one day and mortal enemies the next. Watching my mother today with her grandchildren, issuing the “Watch outs, and Be Careful’s” at every turn you’d never believe this was the same woman who didn’t lay eyes on me except at suppertime for every summer until I was thirteen.

I waded in bug-infested creeks, hid in dark, dank basements, climbed the city fire tower, and hung upside down in every cedar tree on School Street without so much as a peep from my mother.

I crawled in and out of more drainpipes than I can count and rode my bicycle while blindfolded, on a dare. Still, I survived and managed to learn a bit of financial management to boot.

For every time I reported on my sister (who was dating at the time) I earned 25 cents. By summer’s end I was a very rich little girl. (One can see a lot hanging from an old cedar tree.) But I digress…

Summer vacation was a glorious time for the whole family. Daddies came home at night and read bedtime stories to little ones above the welcome whirr of the huge window fan, while mamas tenderly braided hair, soaking wet from a quick frolic in the yard sprinkler.

We ate watermelon until we threw up, and then ate some more. We ate ice cream with the watermelon and we didn’t die! We drank Kool Aid morning, noon, and night, ate hot dogs with chili from the dime store, spent our weekly allowances on penny candy from Mr. Albea’s. We drank lemon sours and dug for fishing worms.

Somehow I don’t think kids today enjoy summers like we did. Seldom do we see lemonade stands any more; air conditioners have spoiled us and we haven’t the time nor patience to search for bits of colored glass for a rousing game of Hopscotch. A skinned knee ends most of outside play these days while we stayed outside with nary a whimper.

I’m afraid many will never know the joy of finding a four-leaf clover, the fun of finding faces in the clouds, or the sheer pleasure of drinking honeysuckle juice.

I understand there are many today who advocate year-round school. I also understand many parents in today’s society are not fortunate enough to be able to stay home with their children and so school representatives are only responding to the demands of increasing parental work schedules.

But, dear hearts, children are starting organized “school” today, some as young as six-weeks old! If this trend continues children could spend as many as ten years (or more) in full-time, year round school and/or day care. Sure, parents have to work but children need a break from school.

Children not only benefit from academic activities and settings. Learning is not limited to what we teach children. There is great value in what a child learns on his own, in the creek, from play with friends, in the backyard or yes, even hanging upside down in a cedar tree.

Imagination and creativity are nurtured by giving children less structure and freer, uninterrupted personal time. What they need is summertime.

Adults need time, too, to refresh, to rest and, well, take time to smell the roses, if you please. I pray that somehow my two granddaughters will know the pure joy of summertime, even in the city.

I still look for ways to find that special feeling of summer that I had as a child and I’m now 65 years old. I did try climbing a tree a few years back. Bad idea. I fell and broke my foot. I was lucky it wasn’t my neck.

I rode an old bicycle down my driveway. The back wheel fell off. I used my cell phone to get a ride back up the hill.

I stretched out on my deck on glorious sunny morning and began creating faces in the clouds. A bird flew over and relieved himself on my Foster Grants.

Chilidogs now give me heartburn and my new crowns don’t allow for penny candy. I still eat watermelon ‘til I throw up. It’s not quite as exciting as I’d remembered though.

I’m debating now as to whether to take up roller-skating again or go in search of some dry Catawba pods. I don’t know how many days are left before the first day of fall but time’s a wasting and the rain’s still coming down.

I still wish school started after Labor Day.

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