Dare to be wise; begin! He who postpones the hour of learning is the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.
- Adapted from Horace
Although Columbia Countys first day of school arrived this year before the dog days of summer had even begun, schools in this part of the country have always started on the early side for some of us.
In my long-ago New England, for example, it was always the Wednesday after Labor Day that heralded wearing new clothes, owning long pencils with their erasers still on, and returning to bumpy rides on the big, yellow bus.
Of course, we were still chewing stubby pencils in mid-June while our Southern counterparts were well on their way to a summer tan. Whenever the school year begins, however, one thing is always the same: few students - teachers, too - are ready to give up sleepy mornings and the slower pace of summer days.
But we adjust to the routine again and, if truth be known, decide more regimen in our lives is healthier anyway. Still, its fun to remember what we did when the alarm clock didnt ring and the living was easy - or was that another lifetime?
Perhaps its our increasingly programmed way of life, but Ive been thinking lately about the difference between what children do today when theyre out of school, and what we did before there were camps for soccer, band, and gymnastics and classes for everything from computers to caring for your pet. In comparison, I wonder how we unscheduled ancients ever had any summer fun. All I know is: we did.
Except for Vacation Bible School and a rare family vacation, planned recreational activities during the summer months were scarce. June is still cool in New England, so we werent allowed to go swimming or barefoot until the Bible School picnic or the 4th of July. But we had plenty to do. Some might call it work; we called it fun.
On those cool, swimless June days we picked strawberries, ate some, crushed some for strawberryade, and saved the rest to can - no freezers, then - or turn into pies and jam. We earned spending money if we picked from Brockways Field, or pulled weeds from bean and corn rows on Kromers Farm.
Other days we might wrap ourselves in blankets, lie under trees, and listen to the voices of the wind and birds blend into natures chorus, or head to a nearby stream to vie for the biggest catch of always-plentiful rainbow trout. Reading was a favorite sport in those pre-TV days, too, often under those same trees or beside the quiet streams.
By July the raspberries were ripe and we donned long pants and insect repellent to prepare for the second taste treat of the summer. Early garden crops were ready then, too, and I developed my annual green thumb - not from gardening skill but from shelling buckets (pails if youre a New Englander) of fresh peas I couldnt wait to mound beside chunky, new potatoes on my dinner plate. You may gasp to hear this, but treks to the swimming hole down at the unchlorinated river also began in July. We knew we were not to swim right after a meal or go in over our heads, and we never, ever swam alone.
It wasnt August unless the hay and blueberries were ready to cut and pick. (How could we have started school then when folks counted on us for those important tasks?) We combed burnt land for the berries, and I learned to drive while my uncles pitched hay from raked piles onto my waiting truck. Haying season always meant a family or neighborhood get-together, feasts of corn and blueberry pie, and songfests around the piano when work and day were done.
But I was right; that was another time. Todays planned activities probably are better for our more urbanized, working-parent population than for the stay-at-home farming community Ive just described. I carted children to baseball games, swimming lessons, and summer camps, too, and praised the communities where we lived for the choice. So maybe Im just being nostalgic, longing for really fresh berries, peas, and corn, and time to enjoy the fruit of my less-consuming labors.
But my longing isnt just for me. I also wish life for our children could slow down, be less demanding on their ever-shortened summers and youth. I wish the joy of collective, wholesome work, which needs no disguise to be fun, could be revived, too.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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