Monday, June 18, 2012

More On Summertime Memories

Here's an essay I wrote a few years ago that might trigger more summertime memories for those who would like to enter the Summer Memories Contest I posted on Friday. You may have other summertime activities to add to those I've listed here. What are they?

Summer Now and Summer Then
By Nancy Julien Kopp

In today’s world, moms start preparing for summertime months ahead. They scour the local papers and websites for summer activities for their children. The mindset today appears to be that school is out for 2 ½ months, and the children need to be busy. Lessons of all kinds fill the hot summer days for pre-schoolers and on into the teen years. Summer music lessons, swimming and diving, arts and crafts, drama and a summer reading program at the local library are only a few of the activities for these vacationing children.

Some mothers make charts so that there are Mon-Wed-Fri and Tues-Thurs things to do. The week-end might be free or taken up with a traveling baseball team. The aim is make sure the children never say “I’m bored!”

And they probably won’t make that statement as they’re too busy running from one event to another, or getting ready for camp. Ah yes, there are camps of every variety you can think of. basketball camp, football camp, cheerleading camp, band camp, golf camp, day camp, soccer camp, church camp—to name only a few. Some kids attend several every summer.

By the time school starts, these over-scheduled kids must be thrilled to get back to the classroom so they can rest. I was happy to go back to school every fall, too, but for a different reason. I’d had the summer to get away from the strict school routine, to enjoy those “lazy, hazy days of summer” we heard of in a popular song.

I grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s in a world that doesn’t come close to resembling that of the 21st century. Summer vacation meant sleeping a little later than usual, then helping my mother around the house for part of every day. When I finished the tasks she assigned, the day was mine. Occasionally, I walked the many blocks to the pool with a friend. Or I meandered down a cinder path behind the commuter train station to the library where I marched up and down the aisles between bookshelves selecting an armload of books to take home. As soon as I finished a stack of books, I headed down the cinder path again, only to return with another armload of reading material. I didn’t get a sticker for each book I read. I read them because they were exciting, because they transported me to places I’d never seen before.

Radio soap operas made the time helping Mom go fast. I’d get so caught p in the tragic doings of all the stars of these serials, and then when school started, I’d lose track of them. Would Helen Trent find love again? Did Stella Dallas come out all right? I’d only know if I happened to stay home from school with a cold or the flu the rest of the year.

As I got older, I spent many of my summertime hours babysitting neighborhood children or my own three brothers. Their toy boxes weren’t nearly as full as the ones today. A new coloring book and box of crayons brought forth cries of joy. Bubbles in a bottle appealed to every age. I’d sit on the steps with my babysitting charges, and we’d blow magical bubbles until the bottle was empty, and then go make more with dishwashing soap. We bounced balls against the brick wall of our apartment building where we lived, and we played Sewer Tag in the concrete courtyard. The sewer covers were safety zones, and the little kids shrieked as they darted from cover to cover. I pushed babies and toddlers in strollers to the park a few blocks away, where we ambled round and round the wooded pathways. And I made children jug upon jug of Kool-Aid. I liked the little bit of cash I earned babysitting, but I had fun with the kids, too. It proved to be part of what led me into the teaching field years later.

The only places that had air-conditioning back then were the movie theaters. Marquee banners proclaimed “It’s cool inside!” as they rippled in hot summer breezes. When the heat waves hit the streets of Chicago, it was time to go to the movies to cool off. It didn’t matter what movie they showed, we found blessed relief from the sticky humidity and heat for a dime.

Maybe we did tell our mothers we were bored, but if so, I have no memory of it. Looking back, I think I’m glad I had such a carefree, relaxed summertime. A glass of Kool-Aid and a Nancy Drew mystery left me feeling happy and content. I looked forward to summer vacations, and so did my friends.

So, which way is better? Who’s to say? Maybe we’d have been better off with a little more stimulation and structured activities, or maybe we benefited greatly from having to create our own activities. That was then, and this is now. Change may be hard, but it’s the way of the world. Now, we live in a multi-tasking, structured society. Maybe a program director of today can come up with a summer class for kids called “How To Relax and Have Fun On Your Summer Vacation.”

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Nancy, I have fond memories of wandering the pastures, playing in the creek and working in the family garden. Yes, we had chores to do daily back then, but lots of time to explore, to relax and to read. I feel fortunate to have had such a childhood.