The Endless Summer of ’83

Officially, school ended for my son on May 21st. Much to the chagrin of his eight-year-old heart, I enrolled him in his school’s summer learning camp (a four-week program, four days each week) to review material skimmed over, or omitted, due to Covid-19 closures and restrictions. He’s had fun in the program, although he refuses to admit it (the stubborn gene, thankfully, bypassed me).

Today was the last day of the camp. I feel it has been beneficial, my son believes it has only eaten away at his summer vacation– he now has about six weeks or so before the new school year begins. His plans for the summer are to watch television, play video games and run the countryside at his grandmother’s house where he’ll be most days while I’m at work. The learning camp chipped out a portion of his summer and he feels a little cheated. He’s glad to get his summer, properly, underway.

I don’t know how fast the summer will seem to go by for my son, but I’m sure it will be speedy for me. I am astounded that this year is already half-finished. My grandmother always said the older you get, the quicker time flies. Over the years, I’ve found that to be all too true. I read an article a while ago which explained the phenomena like this: we have more worries and responsibilities, and also have to keep track of time more frequently, as adults. Grown-ups are more aware of time and the pressures of it. Kids get to stop and smell roses, if they are lucky and I pray all kids are so blessed.

My son has his complaints about how the summer has gone so far, and I empathize– he, basically, had four extra weeks of school. I had my own limited summer as a kid. That particular summer felt as though it lasted a day short of forever.

In the spring of 1983, our schools extended into June due to snow closures. By the time the school year, finally, ended, we had about four weeks total for summer vacation. I was six-years-old and would be heading into the first grade. My mother, my brother and I had lived a year in our new house on the hill next door to my maternal grandparents and my father had been deceased for two years that June. During that brief summer, my brother and I spent just about every waking moment with our grandfather.

We spent the summer outside in the garden, in the fields, running errands. We were with Granddaddy Woods all the time, or so it seems to me now. If it was just going to the grocery store to pick up some small something for Granny Woods, my brother and I were with our grandfather.

I remember riding in the back of his old green pick-up truck and helping him when he posted Neighborhood Watch signs along our rural road. I remember going with him to Mr. Rainey’s house (I believe it was Mr. Rainey) when he needed my grandfather’s help repairing the pump in his wellhouse. Mostly, I remember riding on the tractor with my grandfather.

We rode miles with our grandfather on that tractor over the acres of our hillside. My brother and I sat next to Granddaddy, the wind in our hair and the sun on our faces. The tractor had an open cab: no top, no sides, just a lot of hold on tight. I still remember that old tractor’s roar and I think I can still feel every bump we hit. We rode from dawn to dusk.

I know that summer lasted only a few weeks. It felt long, even then. But that may be my mind playing tricks on me, or comforting me, since Granddaddy Woods would pass away the following December. For me, that summer was my True American Boy Summer, and I think it’s something I’ve tried to capture in my writing, the feeling of what living is really like, of appreciating these isolated moments where something special is happening even though we don’t know it at the time.

A lot of years have passed since that summer. A lot of things have happened, a lot of people have come and gone from my life. A lot of water has passed under the bridge leading to the place where I grew up.

But that summer lives on. At heart, I’m still that kid riding on the tractor with the summer sun on my face in full awe of my grandfather.