After an entire spring of learning packets and virtual Zoom lessons at home, I wonder if kids have noticed much difference now that summer vacation has begun in earnest. Back in the day, the finality of it all came with a last-day-of-school potluck served in the cafeteria by our moms and the Grand March in the gym supervised by music teacher Tom Rogers. Then came the final bus ride home with the high school guys singing: “School’s out! School’s out! Teacher let the monkeys out!” as Roy Shirk dropped us off for the last time until September.
Ah, that sweet spot of childhood: early summer. July 4th fireworks were always exciting, and the occasional hamburger or hotdog on the grill tasty – with August all about the county fair. But summer in June was new and special, the best ones happening when we were little, when we spent our days right there on River Road – long before we busied ourselves with 4-H projects and summer jobs.
Recently the coo of a mourning dove reminded me of the same plaintive sound on many a long-ago summer morning. That was the quiet time of the day, before too many people clanked around and cluttered things up – except my dad, already busy in the milk house and the barn. Not that the farm was by any means silent at that hour, when the sun illuminated a veritable concert of hums and buzzes and birdsong among the dewy blossoms of chickweed and Queen Anne’s lace.
We had chores back then – feeding the rabbit and chickens and gathering eggs – which Mother had to regularly nag us to complete. But we pretty much had the run of the farm from the time my dad brought in the cows for the morning milking until he turned them out to pasture at night – with the 11:30 and 12:30 Grimes whistles marking the halfway point between.
So we dug in the dirt behind the laundry room using discarded spoons to fill cups and plates with pretend foods from make-believe recipes. When Mother shooed us outside because we were underfoot, we played hopscotch on the sidewalk and hide-and-seek in the lilac bushes. We trudged back the lane to see Daddy in the field behind the rickety bridge. We played on tractors and climbed on hay wagons, sometimes venturing way up into the haymow. We took turns on the tire swing that hung from the bough of the butternut tree. And sometimes we sat in the porch swing reading a library book – or watching the setting sun paint streaks across the western sky.
Although many pools are closed this summer, Facebook photos show how much kids enjoy water in the summer, what with water parks, slip-and-slides, and all manner of backyard pools. For us, wet fun came on the way to the barn when we splashed through that one big puddle that always formed after a hard rain. Sometimes we ended up in the pasture field across the road wading in the lazy currents of Muddy Creek or admiring Mad River as it rushed along behind the dilapidated old summer cabin.
We were, for the most part, a stay-at-home family bound by a relentless schedule of cows and crops. But we also had special events, such as family reunions. For the Maurice Reunion at Harmon Park, Mother made 24-hour salad and chicken and noodles, while Daddy ground bologna to mix with mayonnaise and pickle relish for ham salad sandwiches. We traveled all the way to Marysville for the Scott Reunion, held in a shelter house near the municipal pool – where some of the cousins went swimming!
We also attended Vacation Bible School for a week of crafts, Bible lessons, outside time, and snacks all around one coordinated theme. The best part was group singing in the sanctuary to open and close each day: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Zaccheus,” “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart!”
And what was summer without the summer reading program at the library, when construction-paper cut-outs of boats or circus animals or spaceships were tacked to extra display boards in the reading room on Market Street. Each week we returned our books to Miss Frost or Miss Ansberry (now Bonnie Knull), who copied their titles and recorded the number of books read with hash marks on the displayed symbols. Sadly, we had to be satisfied with just one trip a week to the library.
Here, however, halfway through June, I fear the joys of early summer are being compromised for youngsters concerned about viruses and violence. But then, I guess kids will always worry some. All those summers ago, I myself was afraid of polio when I saw children encased in iron lungs just as I was scared the Russians would drop a bomb after Khrushchev threatened to bury us.
What I really hope for kids and families this year is a happy summer like the ones we had … when we caught lightning bugs in jars with airholes punched in the lids … when we savored a millisecond of sweetness sucked from a clover bud plucked from the side of the road … when we drank good, cold water from the hose by the cedar tree … when we played county fair on the front porch and had parades down the lane … back when summer – and we – were young.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.