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Gearing up for summer

Food for Thought

It was usually well past Memorial Day (and often after Independence Day) before I settled into the mind-set that nearly everybody else had enjoyed since the last day of school. By that, I mean that, as a child, it took me a while to change gears, to get out of my school-mode and into vacation-mode. I don’t know why I needed that transitional interval, but I still tend to pause, look around at my new circumstances and mentally switch gears before embarking on a new phase of my life.
Now, I’ll admit that that is not a very practical or productive strategy, as it wastes a lot of time, but perhaps saves money and effort. It’s not something that I consciously intend to do, it’s just how I always seem to end up dealing with the changes in my life. I admit that, even though it’s been a good month since the first official day of summer, I’ve finally accepted that it’s time to get out the croquet set, string up the hammock, and dig out the summer sandals– summer is actually here.
I’m sure you’ve guessed, by now, that I’ve often missed some opportunities and significant events because I am so slow to acclimate to change. When other kids were going off to summer camp, or spending two weeks on Grandpa’s farm, I was still sorting through my past year’s spelling papers and playing school with my little sister– reluctant to give up the activities that had filled my life since the previous September.
Some days, I missed school so much that I rode my bike the several blocks to the schoolhouse and parked by the jungle gym (monkey bars to some of you.) There might be a few neighborhood kids playing on the swings, or one of the high school students who worked part time in a summer recreation program. But, the playground was usually deserted and depressing, and I’d ride my bike around on the paved play area where we were required to stay out of the mud during rainy school recesses. That area was strictly forbidden to bicycles on school days, and I felt a guilty thrill, knowing I was breaking a time-honored rule.
I knew little about those summer recreation classes. The only contact I had with them during my childhood, was one day when I happened upon a high school girl from our neighborhood who was sitting on the school steps with large spools of colored plastic strings and a pair of scissors. She was apparently equipped to dispense the material to students who bought them for a few cents per yard and then wove or braided them into bracelets or lanyards as part of the recreation program. I supposed that she had taught them how to do those things, but I never saw any gathering that remotely resembled a class, or anybody giving instructions.
I’m reasonably sure my parents knew about those recreation programs and rejected them as an option for their daughters. We all had our share of chores around the house, helping Mother with the housework and canning, and working with Dad in the garden. We also had ample time to do our own thing and just be kids which Mother and Dad thought were important. They believed children need time for daydreams, for reading, drawing, inventing and pretending. According to them, going to an organized, structured recreation program would have been too much like school– too much taking instruction and following rules, leaving little time for creative play and investigating the world on our own.
There were always two constants in my summers once I got myself over the transition and realized it was actually summer. I walked the few blocks to the library at least once a week, and usually brought home as many books as Mrs. May the librarian permitted– or as many as I could carry. Mrs. May took a special interest in me (or so I believed) and showed me a special room where there were many large, colorful books filled with photos of famous paintings, architecture, sculpture, and other forms of art. She never raised an eyebrow when, at age eleven, I checked out books by Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, Robert W. Service, and Emily Dickinson.
And I finally admitted it was summer when the days got so hot that we rolled up our swimsuits in bath towels and headed for the swimming pool. We spent the hottest part of the day happily splashing in the water, cannon-balling off the diving board, diving for a wad of tar we picked off a seam on the bottom of the pool, and my specialty– floating on my back, eyes closed, until the life guard had somebody check to see if I was okay. About four-thirty, we got dressed, rolled our swimsuits in our damp towels and walked slowly home for supper.