The first time I ever went camping was in the summer between the fifth and sixth grade. I’m not sure if it even qualified as “camping.” There were no mountain views or burning campfires or hiking in the middle of a deep forest. My buddy had an uncle and he set up a tent on my Mother’s postage stamp of a lawn. Our mothers had given permission for Rick, Wiggles and me to spend the night. Even though the only “view” I was going to have was the 36 trolley rumbling by and Betty’s Luncheonette across the street, it was still extremely exciting as this would be the first night I was ever going to spend under the telephone wires … uh, I mean stars.
Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it till midnight when I crept away from my buddies and went inside for some Kool-Aid and my comfortable bed. I never went camping again. As Woody Allen says, “I’m two with nature.”
The first time I ever kissed a girl was in August between my sixth and seventh grade. Her name was Rita DiMuchi and boy those neighborhood Italian girls sure “developed” quicker than the rest of the corner, didn’t they? We were all hanging in the park and I had been getting the nerve up all summer. Her girlfriends were all heading home and Rita was lagging behind and I just kind of snuck up and kissed her. Instead of slapping me, Rita grabbed me by my face and said, “Who the heck taught you how to kiss?” Then she gave me a real whopper of a kiss and laughingly ran up ahead to catch up with her friends. I stood there stunned and knew a new chapter of my life was beginning.
The first time I ever drank hard liquor was in the same park that I kissed Rita DiMuchi. It was the summer after eighth grade and a bunch of us had “borrowed” some liquor bottles from one of the parents who worked for Publicker and always had a lot of various whiskies and gin and vodka about. (Remember that delicious aroma you used to take in driving over the Walt Whitman? That was courtesy of Publicker.) Well, I took one sip of the gin and immediately decorated my Chuck Taylor’s if you get my drift. Oh well, live and learn as my mother used to say.
Have you noticed the time frame on all three of these watershed moments? They all took place during the summer. The most special time of the year when you are a kid. So many of life’s pivotal moments take place between Memorial Day and Labor Day, don’t they?
That’s why I get upset that it seems like every year, kids are going back to college, high school and even elementary school earlier and earlier. Heck, I quit my mediocre high school football career because practices began in early August and that just didn’t sit well with me. It was too much like work. The point is clear: I don’t want anyone messing with our kids’ summers!
I’m aware that there are proponents for year-round school. I even understand some of the reasons. Kids (and, yes, I count college students as kids), forget too much during those 10 weeks they have off. But guess what? They’re gonna forget most of it anyway. Eight years of grade school and you want to know what I retained from it all? That Brazil exports cocoa. That’s it. I can’t tell you the last party I’ve been to where that fact has come up in a conversation and it’s not like I’m getting booked any time soon on Jeopardy!
This frequent two-week off system that countries like Japan operate under is all well and good and no question it can lead to a better educated kid. That’s been well proven. However, when is the last time you’ve been to a great Japanese keg party?
All kidding aside, one of the factors that makes a summer so terrific is the enormity of it. There’s so much downtime that kids have to search to continue to find stuff to do. While some of it is of the “get in trouble” nature, a lot of it is of the creative and work side also. Who reading this doesn’t have a fond memory of a summer job? I spent three summers strapping kids inside bumper cars on the Wildwood Boardwalk and I swear to God, if it paid an adult salary I would have never quit.
Last month, I wrote about all that South Jersey has to offer during the summer with all of its lakes and beaches. It’s just not right to lock up a kid in a classroom knowing that all that beautiful weather and all it has to offer are right out the school door.
Heck, I believe the threat of summer school hanging over a kid’s head makes him work and study harder during the school year. Who wants to squeeze behind a desk when all your buddies are crashing the neighbor’s pool? Not me! And I wouldn’t want my daughters to either.
Let’s not be so quick to push our kids into the real world. Believe you me, they have their whole lives to work. I remember the nuns with that “we’re preparing you for the real world” crap. That the real world was “not about having fun, Mr. Graham.”
Really? That’s news to me. Hell, there would have been no Beach Boys without summertime and what’s more American than the Beach Boys?!
Enjoy August. That’s what it’s here for.
Two Funny Philly Guys, featuring Big Daddy Graham and Joe Conklin, will be appearing at the Deauville Inn in Strathmere on Saturday, Aug. 17. Call (609) 263-2080 for tickets.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 5 (August, 2013).
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