Thursday, June 4, 2015
On Facebook the past few days I've seen lots of photos (some with smiling kids holding signs) about the last day of school. In some cases, they're transitional moments--end of elementary or middle or high school or college; in others, just the happy smile of survival: I made another year!
When I was a kid, I loved summer vacation (Vacation Bible School excepted). It meant baseball and bike-riding and maybe a trip to Oregon to see my dad's family, a trip that would of course include the traversing of the Wild West, the principal geography of my imagination in those years. If I couldn't actually be a cowboy, well, I could sit in the back seat of our car and stare at the terrain and imagine that I was. (Thank you, 1950s television, with your countless cowboy shows, for retarding my intellectual growth for several decades.)
I rode a horse only a few times in my young life--and each ride took a sizable bite out of the cookie of my cowboy fantasy. I was no good at it; it hurt; I was afraid. Yes, my admiration for Hopalong Cassidy soared (How could he spend all that time on Topper?), but I began to realize that spending all day on a horse was not nearly so much fun as watching TV cowboys do it all day. I also could not imagine doing what I saw in some of those shows--a cowboy leaping from the balcony of a saloon onto the back of his horse. I mean, the cowboy would have to have, uh, everything in order for that to go well, right? (And it could not have been pleasant for the horse--lapping water from the trough and then splat! Some dude has just jumped from a building (!) to land in the saddle!)
As I progressed through public school, summers still meant baseball. But they also meant something else that had been increasing in importance over the years: sleeping. And catching up on same. My parents were probably glad I slept a lot as a teen: It meant less time they would have to deal with my snarling, snotty self. (I wouldn't be surprised to learn they'd drugged me, as I think about it.) Yes, I was still playing baseball, though I quit riding my bike in high school. Not cool, a bike. But I'd developed other interests that were consuming my (carnal) imagination, but we will not get into that. This is a family-friendly site!
In college, I sometimes went to summer school. My dad said: summer school or job. (Duh, tough choice.) I tried to find courses that didn't start until about 2:00 p.m., when I was (usually) awake. Didn't always work out. I spent one summer as a tennis counselor at a boys' camp in the Adirondacks (Camp Idylwold--defunct). But mostly I went to summer school. And slept.
Sleeping pretty much ended when I became a teacher in the fall of 1966. That job required me to work seven days a week (plus evenings) during the school year, so I never had much sympathy with people who moaned (enviously?) about my "three months off in the summer." I knew if I'd been paid hourly, I would be making about 14 cents an hour.
I started back taking graduate courses at Kent State in the summer of 1968 (just one class), and it was in a KSU summer school class in the summer of 1969 that I met Joyce Ann Coyne, who, right now, is upstairs working on her gazillionth draft of her book about John Brown. So ... I grew very, very fond of summer sessions ... look what can happen?!?
Joyce and I finished our Ph.D.s at the same time--1977--and spent the rest of our careers teaching (and traveling and reading and writing). Summers became a time for recovery, yes, but also a time to go charging around the country (and other countries) in search of things related to our teaching. We'd begun this sort of thing on our honeymoon, for pity's sake, taking a ride on a river boat from New Orleans up into the bayou country (related to Kate Chopin, on whom Joyce would write her dissertation) and stopping on the way home at Hannibal, Missouri, for some Twain-mania .
During our teaching years (Joyce's are not quite over--she still does a course for Hiram College now and then) we used the summers for major writing projects as well as school-related travel. And we haven't really stopped. Even though I'm retired, we still drive here and there whenever we can. (For Joyce's work, we've been to just about every John Brown site there is.) And my mom, conveniently, lives near Arrowhead (Melville's home near Pittsfield, Mass.--where he wrote Moby-Dick) and other literary sites in western Massachusetts. So whenever we can, we combine Family Time with Nerd Time.
So ... I guess what I'm saying? We've never seen "vacation" time as a time to do nothing-or (in current parlance) to just "chill." No, it's always been a time to get more work done--work of all sorts. And I've loved every pea-pickin' second of it.