We called it the T-Bone Crash. My friend Johnny would get in his coaster wagon at the top of our sloping yard and I’d climb into mine, then on a signal we’d both go flying down the hill, crashing into each other at the last minute, sending our four-wheeled vehicles in opposite directions and spilling us onto the ground. The trick was to pull yourself out of the grass in the most heroic fashion possible.
If the weather got really hot we’d head to the town creek where the monsters lurked. We never actually saw a monster raise its mossy head out of McKee Creek, but in our imagination they were truly terrifying. An entire afternoon could be swallowed up in the simple childhood joys of skipping rocks, swimming in the really deep water (about three feet of it), grabbing willow branches and swinging out into the water, and building campfires started with the kitchen matches we stole from our dad’s pockets.
These were the heady days we lived for, free of school or any other pressing obligations, free to simply be kids. Yeah, you’ve heard it all before . . . and that’s because these memories hold true for so many of us.
Jerry’s a good friend of mine and he has a family of three great kids. I attended the party for his oldest girl’s graduation from high school this spring and innocently said, “So, can your family slow down a little now that summer’s here?” He looked at me like I was crazy. In fact, he said, “Are you crazy?” Then he went on to briefly sketch his kids’ schedule for the summer. “Mike has football camp starting in June. . . “ I stopped him. “Wait a minute. You mean football that’s played in October starts in June?” He said, “Oh, it’s not regular practice, just a camp. But if you expect to play you’d better be at camp.” Then he went on talk about his junior high daughter’s basketball camp. I stopped him again. “You’re talking about basketball for 12-year-olds in a season that’s played next winter?” He nodded. “And two of them play on softball teams and the boy plays baseball all summer. And somewhere in there is a volleyball camp and cheer camp.” So the question remained . . . What ever happened to summer?
USA Today recently reported that over 200 church camps will be closing this summer and summer youth programs are on the decline all over the country. The reason listed by most of those in charge is the increasing encroachment of school activities into the summer schedules. A youth coordinator for a Missouri YMCA said, “We just can’t compete. There’s huge pressure on kids to do the summer athletic camps. Everybody’s trying to compete with the next school in the next county who’s starting a program for even younger kids.” The report said that the overkill on summer sports schedules is beginning to backfire in some areas, noting that by the time young athletes are in high school they’re just played out.
I once got some politely angry messages from a few parents when I suggested we begin athletics in the prenatal wards of hospitals. I advocated pregnant mothers subject their wombs to a barrage of ESPN broadcasts and that if an NFL game were playing on the television during the birth process that perhaps little Bubba would help his team beat the neighboring school that doesn’t provide such services. Like my plan to put underground parking in the center of the Jacksonville Square, this idea went nowhere.
I’m afraid that I’m just a bit of a curmudgeon on the subject and can’t be cured. I know several generations of adults who became more imaginative because they had to figure out how to climb trees and build bridges across creeks. I have friends who have enriched their lives with music by sitting on porch decks at night while they swatted June bugs and learned to play the guitar. My own life has been made richer by spending summer evenings listening to my grandpa tell wild tales while we churned homemade ice cream on Grandma’s back porch, taking family vacations to the wondrous sights of America, pitching a tent over night with my buddies, and simply walking alone on quiet summer streets in the nighttime. I hope that this generation gets a chance to do some of those things.
Before I left the graduation party Jerry told me, “I don’t know how to fight it. We load up the car and head to a ballgame, text our friends all the way there, then hurry to the next one. I guess that’s called family time these days.” I guess it is, Jerry.
I don’t claim to be one bit smarter because I learned how to do a T-Bone Crash between Dad’s pecan trees, but after nine months sitting in a classroom the summer was mine and it seemed to go on forever with no need for a seventh-inning stretch.