As a child the parameters of summer were the end of school year and the beginning of another. Summer break began in June, and lasted until just after Labor Day weekend, so August was the third and last month of summer vacation. As I look back upon those years it seemed like summer lasted a long time. When I think of my elementary school years living in Denver, Colorado, they were truly care free for me. I was part of the Baby Boom generation, and it was never so noticeable as it was in my neighborhood. Every house on the block had two or more kids approximately my age. So I had lots of friends to play with.
The Little Rascal movies could have been based on my neighborhood. We had gangs and club houses that parents built for us. The alley between the houses on either side of the block was the meeting place for my friends and I. From there we hatched many activities from sandlot baseball, to long distance bike rides, playing cowboys and Indians and track and field games. The days began early, around 6:30 a.m., and lasted through the day till dark. We hated to have to come in. I knew it was time, however, when my father stepped out on the back porch and gave his unique whistle, and yelled my name: “Mark Jennings, time to come in!”
I haven’t heard a father do that in many years. Our neighborhood seemed much more connected than neighborhoods do today. One obvious reason is that people were outdoors more than they are now, and there were no video games to watch, or i-Phones to monitor.
Looking back I am amazed at the freedom my parents gave to me. We lived on the edge of town, and the prairie began at the end of our street. You could look out across it as far as the eye could see. And in the summer we spent a good deal of our time in it. We could ride our bikes far away and be gone for hours and my mom never seemed to worry. Maybe there was less to worry about in those days. Drugs, porn, human trafficking, violence were unheard of then. Life was simpler. I think the 1950’s had to be the golden era of America. Peace and prosperity were at hand.
While my parents seemed to trust that I wasn’t going to get into trouble, for the most part I was trustworthy. I didn’t do anything really bad. The worst thing I did was almost derailing a train! We had been placing copper pennies on the tracks to see what they would look like when the train ran over them. They were flattened good. So we thought we’d put a railroad spike on the track and see what would happen. About five of us sat down on some mounds close to the tracks and waited for the train. As it approached the conductor waved at us kids, and we waved back. Then the train hit the spike. There was a terrible noise and sparks were flying. The train engine carried that spike a lot farther than we supposed would happen. The conducted waved again at us, but it wasn’t quite the same wave he had given earlier!
Somewhere along the way my parents taught me to respect them, as well as some basic values they taught me. I knew they had a certain expectation of me to be good, honest, and obedient to them. And I lived up to their expectations. They trusted me because I stayed out of trouble. Because of that my summers were filled with a modicum of independence and joy.
As school approached it was met with a certain resignation, fear and anticipation. On the positive side I got to go to the "Five and Dime" and get my school supplies--a three-ring binder that zipped up, with pockets inside to stuff papers, a plastic pencil holder, eraser, pencil sharpener, and a box of 48 Crayola crayons. I still love to smell a gum eraser and a fresh box of crayons. The memories come flooding back.
I suppose some of my most vivid experiences from childhood were of summer vacations from school. It was a time for boys to be boys and somehow we began to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. Our imaginations were unleashed in playful and adventurous ways. My parents helped to create this wonderful time by providing a secure environment, some simple ground rules, and probably a more watchful eye than I ever realized! There was always a sense of sadness at the end of summer, but also an expectation of something just ahead. It is so even today as summer comes to an end.
Mark Mildren, retired Methodist minister, is the father of two and grandfather of three. He serves as the faith-community liaison for Good Dads and can be reached for question or comment at email@example.com.