This time of year—scorching humid days, once verdant green Spring grass turned brown and coarse, evening fireflies sparking the imagination—always makes me think of summer vacations long ago. Not those taken for a week or two, but the real summer vacation that punctuated our progress in life.
The opening days of Summer—those first glorious days of not having to get up for school, the freedom of having an entire day to do whatever we wanted, the seemingly endless days ahead—made such a powerful impression in our memories.
Then, as June slipped into July and July to August, the first thoughts of returning to school bubbled to the surface. A new grade, new challenges, new teachers, new things to learn, and experience. I may not have looked forward to the end of the summer, but I looked forward to returning to school.
For me it was Ashton School, then Highland Middle, and finally Cumberland High School, CHS ’74.
We had something with us when we ventured back that’s denied today’s generations. Something that made our return both comforting and exciting.
We had stories.
Summer stories to tell our friends in the long tradition of human storytelling. In the telling of the stories, we reinforced (and often enhanced) the memories, ensuring they would last a lifetime.
Today, every moment of every day—tweeted, texted, Instagrammed, Facebooked, or Instant messaged—becomes the same as all the others.
In telling our stories, we had to recall from memory those moments that mattered to us. The things that made enough of an impression on an eight-year-old or a fourteen-year-old to warrant a story.
They would lose their magic in a mere text message.
The stories we told came from the heart—enhanced by our imagination—and created a bond between the storyteller and the listener. It was a way of saying, “you’re important to me, I want you to hear my stories, and I want to hear yours.”
We cannot share such a bond in an email or text. The immediacy of such technology robs the story of all emotion and value. It is just another bit of noise in a noisy world, lost among the cacophony, becoming only more background static.
August is when these thoughts and memories rise to the surface. Back then, it seemed the dog days of summer grew shorter, even if we knew that the days had grown shorter almost from the moment summer vacation began.
The sun, making its way back south, posed new challenges to baseball games. Early summer sunlit ball fields now became danger zones as fly balls disappeared into the blinding August afternoon sun and caromed off a player’s head. (Something which we might turn into a great story.)
Now, we were not without our means of instant communication. We had telephones, and the sound of a ringing phone brought anticipation, hope, and surprises. We often planned calls—I’ll call you at 6—and battles would ensue if the phone was in use.
We faced the frustrations of a busy signal or an unanswered call. Answering machines—those first links in the chain bonding us to communication technology—came later. But when a call went through, we had those glorious moments of speaking with someone we likely hadn’t seen since the last day of school. In these calls, we laid the groundwork for future stories—I’ll tell you more later, I have to hang up now.
Until we hit that magic age of driver’s licenses and the freedom it brought, all we had on returning to school was our summer stories.
If I could give anything of value to today’s world, it would be moments like those I shared with my friends telling those stories.
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