Summer vacation was educational, too

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Column: Tales From Exit 22

The calendar had been speeding.

There were flying monkeys.

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They were advertising back-to-school sales.

That was a bad sign. They didn’t have to advertise those things. They could have put up a sign reading, “Bad.” Any kid would have recognized that as a bad sign that indicated that school would soon be starting.

Back-to-school sales not only raised red flags, they put the kibosh on the silliness of summer. Back-to-school sales are the pregame show of the school year. My parents seemed thrilled about me returning to school. I didn’t have any say in it. It was two wolves and a lamb trying to decide which one should go to school.

It didn’t matter what the calendar said. Summer ends when school starts. There were only three seasons for a kid — summer, school and Christmas.

It wasn’t that I disliked school; it was that I loved summer. Besides, I didn’t need school. I had educational TV.

Summer went by fast. School progressed slowly like digging a swimming pool with a spoon.

I sat down on the steps where a porch should have been. There was a paucity of days of freedom remaining. A blue jay called. Big deal. I was bluer than the bird.

Summer was ending. No more time for fun like heat strokes or mosquito feeding frenzies. Summer was a querencia — a place of the heart. I listened to the temperature crickets sing. I counted the number of chirps in 14 seconds and added 40 to get the temperature. It seemed high. I must have counted longer than 14 seconds. That was no surprise to a boy who sometimes took a month to do an hour’s worth of homework.

No matter. It wasn’t a teacher who taught me that. I learned that handy tip from Mark Trail in the funny papers. Why didn’t they teach useful information like that in school?

Mark offered more than just the counsel of crickets. One of his outdoor tips read, “Measure time left before sunset by the finger method. Hold hand at right angle to fully extended arm so that the smallest finger is on the horizon. Each finger represents approximately 15 minutes. Thus, if four fingers fill space between sun and horizon, it will be about one hour until sunset.”

Mark was all over the time and temperature.

I got up early on the first day of school. I helped with the milking, fed the pigs and chickens, and ate a nutritious and humongous breakfast. I tried to get ready for school, but no matter how long I took getting ready for school, I was never quite ready. More pencils, more books, more teachers’ dirty looks.

The poor man wants to be rich. The rich man wants to be king. I wanted my summer back.

School! I’d just been to school earlier in the year. More school would be nothing more than variations on a theme. I didn’t fret the school lunch program. It wasn’t my mom’s cooking, but it was good.

School was weird. School didn’t have our fingerprints on file, but someone was always putting things into our permanent files. I reckoned that education had a lot to learn. I figured that if I learned a new thing every day, by the end of the year, I’d have forgotten 357 of them.

I’d heard about school loans. I wished a grade-schooler needed one. No banker in his right mind would have given me one. That meant I’d have been unable to attend school and summer would have been endless.

I’d convinced myself that my nice teacher was meaner than a fishhook. I knew that teachers worked hard — harder than kids did. That was no shocker. The kids weren’t paid.

Then, to make matters even worse, someone was always telling us, “These are the best days of your life.”

That’s a lot of pressure.

Before I knew it, I was seated in class. Attendance had been taken, and I’d responded with, “Present,” when my name was called. I wanted to reply, “Against my will,” but chickened out.

My teacher took minds of mush and turned them into lean, mean, learning machines. She taught us to deal with what life threw at us — whether it be fastballs, curves, sliders or knuckleballs. We learned to raise our hands. My teacher was good, but she was no Mark Trail.

She welcomed us back, smiled, and said, “Today, class, we’re going to learn how to tell the temperature by listening to a cricket.”

School was great.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.