Sioux Falls public schools, when I was growing up, always closed for summer the Friday before Memorial Day. That gave the grade school students a full three months to sleep in, play ball, take swimming lessons, go to camp and read books, often under the covers by flashlight, and read under the covers late into the night until classes started again the day after Labor Day.
Although the Fourth of July arrived just a third of the way through those fast-paced 90 days, but for those of us growing up then, it was always thought of as the halfway point of summer.
Summertime, for me, was divided between our house with its large screened-in front porch in Sioux Falls and short breaks at my uncle Claud Potter’s farm north of Bridgewater, SD.
There weren’t many other kids my age in my Sioux Falls neighborhood and I had to find ways to entertain myself.
One thing I loved to do was read books.
My aunt Billie Castle was the youth librarian at the Sioux Falls Carnegie Public Library. I’d visit the library every few days so she could introduce me to another group of new authors, subjects and reading adventures. We were allowed to check out seven books then and many summers I would read an average of one book every day. But that often meant reading late into the night, much to my father’s chagrin, and sleeping late the next morning.
During many of the midsummer nights, when the outside temperatures were comfortable, I would sleep on the full-length swinging lounge on the screened-in porch. It was like camping out without leaving the safety of the house.
The South Dakota Diocese of the Episcopal Church had what was at one time a girls’ boarding school for Indian missionaries, All-Saints School, across the street from our home. It has been turned into a day school years earlier with no classes or students on campus during the summer months.
The facility covered three connected square blocks along 18th Street. Although much of it was beautifully kept-up, the area directly across from our home had been allowed to grow wild with trees, large bushes and tall weeds covering every inch of the ground. It was a grade-schooler’s paradise for pretending to be an adventurer, pioneer or explorer.
Life was easy and exciting those days. My only obligation was to deliver an Argus Leader paper route around 4 each afternoon. Interestingly, my route, a couple of miles east and south of where I lived, ran in part along the main rail yards of the Milwaukee, Chicago & Northwestern, Great Northern, Illinois Central and Rock Island railroads. I’d often go to my starting point early so I could watch for engines and occasionally catch ride on a yard switcher or caboose. The Great Northern had a second yard a few miles south of Sioux Falls and a couple of times I got invited to ride along when a crew took a string of cars that direction.
Summer was exciting, entertaining and in its own way, educational.
But not all of summer was spent in town. My mother, fighting a losing battle with cancer, loved to recuperate at the Bridgewater farm. She and my father’s sister, Anne Potter, were best of friends.
Mom enjoyed helping in the garden, sitting on the big farmhouse porch and assisting in the kitchen. I can still see her sitting in an oversized porch chair, shelling peas for the daily noon meal.
The Potters had four children with Janet, their youngest being most close to my age.
Janet and I would play hide and seek in the shelter belt, climb up on the grainery roof to pick low hanging green apples, feed the chickens and hunt for their eggs or both of us take off on the small Allis tractor to chase the milk cows in each night.
It was the best of both worlds, and each summer day was a gift much appreciated and filled with memories.
So, do today’s youngsters appreciate their offseason vacation time as much?
Or is today’s shorter season — with school starting in just a few weeks in the middle of August — so full of preplanned trips, cable TV, video games and sheltering from the hot weather that there is little time for creating memories?
Every generation seems to look back on their childhood as the “best of times!” And because those were the days they lived, and understood, they were.
Not every day was perfect.
There were many sad moments that flash through my mind when I think about growing up. But there are many more memories of happy times with family that put a smile in my heart and on my face.
I thank God that He surrounds us with parents, brothers, and for others, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and especially grandparents to nurture us, protect us and encourage us in our youth. I can only hope our changing culture does not downplay and eliminate those relationships in the future.
Peter W. Wagner lives in Sibley. He is the founder/publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW and may be reached at email@example.com.