Thursday slipped through last week’s lineup with little fanfare. But for me, July 15 has often been more significant than simply the middle day of the seventh month. First and foremost, my Tennessee sister celebrates her birthday on July 15 – whether she wants to or not!
Lesser known, however, is a day of distinction I personally created during my teaching years: Halfway Day. For years, my birthday wishes to my dear sibling followed this pattern of panic: “Happy Birthday! But can you believe summer is already half over!”
During those busy classroom years, the steady erosion of my summer break had me dreading the specter of brand-new deadlines and demands practically before I had completed the old ones. Oh, how I missed the three full months of midyear bliss I experienced during my kidhood. New legislative mandates required us to teach a week or so into June and to report for duty ever earlier in August. As much as I loved teaching, the shortening of my respite from students, nightly lesson planning sessions and paper grading marathons most weekends were indeed the impetus for bemoaning Halfway Day.
Although the prospect of a few school-free weeks is now 11 years in my rearview mirror, I am often reminded of valid reasons – past and present – for the existence of Halfway Day. For example, on July 10 Lori Zimmerman Black and Cindi Caudill Buell collaboratively posted a photo commemorating the GHS 1984 German Exchange Group’s return from our three-week sojourn in Springe exactly 37 years ago. After marveling at how young we all appeared almost four decades earlier, I immediately recalled calculating how much summer had already passed and how little remained of my much-needed break from school activities.
From Facebook photos of kids involved in summer baseball and a casual conversation with Jane Sidders about her grandsons’ games, I was more than surprised to learn that many youth leagues have already completed the 2021 season of their participation in our national pastime – well before Halfway Day.
Adding to my July 15/Halfway Day awareness have been the numerous Christmas-in-July sales recently splashed all over my TV. And next to piles of summer clothing on clearance smack in the middle of summer, local shoppers can already find stacks of back-to-school supplies. One Dayton television station even began promoting their upcoming back-to-school coverage on June 28! What is the rush?
To compare my memories of carefree childhood summer days – when I actually pined for school to start again right after Labor Day – with the reality of it all, I headed for the county library’s website to skim old copies of the UDC dated July 13-16 during the years of 1955-1966. There I found confirmations and surprises.
A typical summer during my youthful years included our weekly trip to the library, where we joined 300-400 other county kids in the Summer Reading Program for three whole months. By the end of June, we had already attended Vacation Bible School and 4-H camp, but there were still potlucks and picnics for reunions and other family get-togethers.
Our non-swimming family nevertheless often drove around Kiser Lake and occasionally past a very crowded Muzzy Lake. It was a big family deal to see The Greatest Show on Earth or The Long, Long Trailer at the Gloria, although I cannot remember ever patronizing the drive-ins north or south of town for cinematic entertainment.
However, another example of the modern, accelerated summer break popped up when I saw a photograph of Ava Buell modeling her 4-H coat on judging day last week. Back in my day – long before the advent of skillathons – judging for the county’s 50-60 clothing and nutrition clubs often occurred during the last week of July or even the first week of August.
Also in those good ol’ days, the sports pages of the UDC included detailed writeups of every Little League and Pony League game played just about anywhere in the county. By the middle of July, most teams had played 7-12 games, with no mention of tournaments or traveling teams.
Clearance of seasonal goods has long been a part of retail – be it the 20th or the 21st century. Curiously, however, amid all the sales and markdowns advertised in the UDC at the halfway way point of summer some six decades ago, I found the word Christmas just twice, both suggesting dolls and toys be put in layaway for the holiday season. And in perusal of 12 years of mid-July newspapers, I unearthed one single mention of anything back-to-school: in 1964, the UDC asked college students to submit pertinent information for a special supplement being planned. Otherwise, there was nary an ad for pencils or notebooks to be found in the middle of July.
We know “the times, they are a changing” and will continue to change as the summers roll on. Summer break has become simply a set of recollections from my busy past. So, last Thursday I wished my sister a happy birthday – with no reference to Halfway Day.
Update: on the last archived UDC page I checked, a regular feature caught my eye. Under BIRTHDAY SALUTES, the UDC ran submitted names of Champaign Countians with birthdays. In the July 15 edition of 1966, page 3, there it was: “Connie Sue Scott, St. Paris, July 15.” Now, that is a great way to close out this article!
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.