Remember how you used to hate those back-to-school ads that began appearing about this time of year? There you were, relishing the final weeks of summer and suddenly Sears, May Company and the Broadway began pushing what the well-dressed kid would — or should — be wearing to the one place you had absolutely no interest in being at.
It wasn’t so much giving up shorts, t-shirts and sneakers(or no shoes at all), it was the admission that five days out of your week would no longer be filled with adventures of your own choosing. It was a foreboding of new teachers, new studies, and worst of all, homework. And speaking of foreboding, there were those certain classmates that you had been able to remove from your consciousness for three solid months. The fear, etc.
But there they were, those revoltin’ full-page ads in the local newspaper that, to your eyes, went well beyond hawking outfits that you knew you had no interest in actually wearing, they announced the inevitability of school. Afternoons at the community swimming pool, gone. Pick-up baseball games, gone. Vacations with relatives, gone. Doing just nothing at all, gone. Even your dinky summer job was better than that.
And it was all so, so…American. Such an immutable right, we thought, of growing up, of being a kid, what we considered an entitlement. Kids in Japan, we’d been told, went to classes all year ’round. Same thing in other distant lands, and we thought, “poor bastards.” There was something wrong with that. What more proof did you need that we were among the blessed, that the good, old U.S.A. was the best. And frankly, how much did one have to know, anyhow?
You went to class for a couple of weeks after Memorial Day, and then it was freedom all the way to the day after Labor Day. Man!
But naturally, in my small town the community leaders went about setting up activities that would limit idleness among the newly released. Swimming lessons and the like. Then again, depending on the cooperative nature of your parents, you could be a complete non-participant. In anything.
Mine, to my annoyance, were decidedly community minded, which meant that my brothers and I were destined to six weeks in the water, and worse, two weeks of daily Bible school, which included pabulum theology and creating Bible-land “houses” out of cardboard, paste and sand (no prizes were awarded). Bible school, not surprisingly, also entailed the brickbats of our free colleagues, making us unsure if we were actually on the right side.
But still, it was summer. The days were long and the nights were short. Screen doors supplanted storm doors. The rigor of classrooms gave way to your own times of dreams, when you could see yourself in other places, filled with dazzling sights and glamor. It was where fond memories often come from. The pace was more relaxed.
I’ve sometimes wondered if those summers were a better rendition of reality, and that the business-oriented part of life where we now labor on toward a return is little short of a facade promoted by people — including the powers behind those god-awful ads — who simply don’t get it.
Summer, you may recall, is when we fall in love.