As summer winds down to a hazy memory and schools re-open to welcome children, I am transported back to one of my own September days and that dreaded first assignment: the essay, My Summer Vacation.
Why was I asked to splatter my most precious moments on a sheet of plain old loose leaf paper only to have them defaced with red ink across the top? It just didn’t feel right.
Moreover, how could I even begin to describe a Brooklyn city summer, or explain how it felt to walk shoulder to shoulder with your best friend sharing secrets, giggles, and a Good Humor or Mr. Softy ice-cream?
Every perfect vacation includes fun, exercise, adventure, education, music and art. We had it all!
We played handball (there was always a building with a smooth wall), punch-ball and two-hand touch: our city versions of baseball and football, the latter usually played in the middle of the street, and basketball (the third rung on the fire escape ladder was the hoop).
For fifty-cents, Al’s deli made a mean ham and cheese hero that he’d cut in half for you and your best buddy to share. Allowance money went a long way at kid-friendly Cheapie Charlies where you could splurge on a water gun, a slinky, jacks, or a one-flight paper airplane, two if you were lucky. Clustered on a stoop we sang and clapped in time.
The main library on Grand Army Plaza provided an air-conditioned respite from the heat. Seated in a cozy arm chair with an illustrated hard-cover our wings spread and our imaginations soared. Next door was the Brooklyn Museum, home to the largest Egyptian collection in the nation. Tombs and mummies, that was the place for mystery and adventure.
If we wanted to hit the high C’s, we’d hop the subway to Coney Island and scream our heads off on the cyclone rollercoaster as it clattered down the wooden rails.
At night, I sat out on the fire-escape staring up at the starry sky while my big brother pointed out the constellations and told me stories of Orion’s belt and the Wings of Icarus.
My summer vacation was about friendships. It was about growing and going back to school just a little older, not about going someplace. In a different way, we did go someplace, but it was within ourselves, our neighborhood, and our special little worlds. Your family and your friends were your summer. What you did, what you talked about and the experiences you shared made up your summer vacation: some things too private and personal to tell anyone except your closest friend, some moments too happy or too sad to actually put into words, but mostly those giddy, silly days filled with laughter that would be impossible to write about in an essay.
I don’t know what stories or memories children will share when they return to school, but I hope the joys of youth and friendship will outshine and outlast whatever troubles or sorrows may have touched their lives this summer.
See you next time on September 22nd.
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