My knowledge of how my parents and grandparents may have once enjoyed their summers is rather limited. Judging by the juvenile literature published in the early-to-mid 20th Century, that generation’s summer activities included trips to the seashore, summer jobs on a farm, time spent at a youth camp or a dude ranch, and adventures around their home town. For my parents, it seems their summers were filled with picnics, tending vegetable gardens, fishing, summer jobs, and enjoying fresh fruit. They seemed to favor a lot of time spent outdoors, if for no other reason than the lack of air conditioning. However our parents and grandparents managed to spend their summers, they tended to recall those days with the same sentiments expressed by Nat King Cole’s song: “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer…”
In my own childhood, summertime was defined by the school calendar as the period of several weeks between the last day of school in late Spring and the first day of school in late August. Summertime for me included a mix of chores and fun, but mostly fun, and best of all, no school or homework for months. It was an extended time of self-directed play, explorations of our neighborhood and town via bicycle, watching TV, playing board games, and plenty of backyard baseball. A regular highlight for my brothers and I was tuning in nightly to hear Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call Cardinals baseball games on the radio. By the time I was in high school, part-time jobs were also a regular part of my summer experience.
As a father, I enjoyed watching my own children spend their childhood summers in self-directed play and participation in outdoor activities. We also visited national parks, historic sites like Colonial Williamsburg, Silver Dollar City, Opryland, and more. In addition, every summer included long family trips to visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My wife and I wanted our kids’ memories of summertime to echo the lyrics in the Diamond Rio song, Sweet Summer: “Those days were never too long / And never too hot / Even though I was out of school / I was learnin’ a lot.”
In my memory, signals of the end of summer always arrived too soon: the county fair, and back-to-school sales in the local stores. I expect summer will end all too soon for many students again this summer, as well. Many families find their calendar filled with swim lessons, band camps, sports camps, missions trips, yard work projects, visits to theme parks like Six Flags, and so on. However, I hope there will also be those opportunities to slow down a bit and enjoy something nearby, perhaps for the first time, perhaps in a new way – like I remember doing as a child. Again from Diamond Rio: “Sweet summer, yeah I remember that / Sweet summer, let me take you back …”