Summer’s Over

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

The calendar says summer still has 6 or so weeks left on it.  Here in the Atlanta area, it’s apparently already over.  Many local school systems have just completed their first week back in the classrooms.  Rockdale County Schools ended their summer in July.  JULY?!?

Consider this a rant from a guy who is staring down his 25th high school reunion that needs to argue with changes over time that further separates the modern world from memories of how things used to be.  After all, summer used to be a long and distinct season unto itself.  It wasn’t a six week break that takes place more in spring than in the actual summer season.  It was 3 months to be anywhere else but a classroom.

Several of my summers were spent in the coastal North Carolina area on family farms and at nearby beaches.  I would spend several weeks staying with great aunts, uncles, and distant cousins.  It was a time where I was able to do activities that weren’t always readily available in suburban Atlanta.  The time away was often allowed to be in a different world that the day to day at home.

Days were spent fishing, picking blueberries, and shelling beans.  It was routine to take a 5 mile bike ride not for exercise, but to visit a cousin on the other side of town.  By living with members of the extended family for weeks or months at a time, I got to see a different part of the world, experience how life was like in an area where traffic congestion was something that was rumored about in distant lands, and really get to know how great the non-local side of my family was.

Days were spent growing food, cooking food, and eating food.  And it was good.  As a boy I wasn’t allowed to do any of the cooking – that just wouldn’t have been right.  But I did pick up a few of the basics by watching that have become part of my southern cooking habits today.

A lot has changed since then.  Much more than the school calendars. But the calendar itself was what made long and not-so-lazy summers like the ones I remember a possibility.

It’s clear we’re moving to a year round school calendar.  The old system was designed for an agrarian schedule that fewer and fewer of us adhere to.  Studies back the change demonstrating the drop off in retained knowledge.  Countries that exceed U.S. students’ test scores have year round calendars.

It’s inevitable that as we have moved to two income households and a non-farm economic base that summer as we knew it when younger is not what it will be going forward.  With today’s students living in a highly digitized world, it’s doubtful that many from the suburbs and city would take the opportunity to spend a month on a farm if offered.  It’s even more unlikely that they would enjoy or appreciate it.

Times have changed.  It’s something we all eventually have to accept and adapt.

Thus, my nieces and nephew have spent this early August week in a classroom.  I’m not yet sure what they’re learning in the 5th and 6th grades.  We’ll have plenty of time to discuss that between now and Memorial Day.

But they won’t be picking berries and they won’t be shelling beans.  Unless that’s a new app they can get from the iTunes store.  The times, they are a changing.


  1. caroline says:

    Don’t think though that the kids would not appreciate being in the country. I grew up doing many of the things you are talking about. When I think back, it kind of saddens me that so many of our small towns in this country are more or less dying. That being said, I have two boys and I have family that has 200 acres in another state. They absolutely love being outside and wandering around and climbing trees and kicking up water in streams. I takes effort though to keep them off that technology.

  2. CobbGOPer says:

    See, this is what my childhood summers were like, but it was leaving the Atlanta burbs to run around in woods and fields in south Fayette County or Upson. At least you got a beach. The best we had was a water sprinkler (that or risking the copperheads in the backwoods creeks).

    • CobbGOPer says:

      Though my family had horses, so I did learn to ride at a young age, and we’d take those animals out all day in the woods, fields, and backroads. Much more fun than a bike…

  3. Three Jack says:

    Nice one Charlie, you might want to stick with this writing thing.

    My summers away from the ATL were spent in the north Georgia mountains on my uncle’s farm. Wouldn’t trade ’em for an IPAD and all the apps one can download.

  4. SallyForth says:

    You evoked good memories, Charlie. Summer was a time when we got out of the Big A and spent time “out in the country” as my family called it. Those weeks with all my country cousins scattered from West through North Georgia showed this city slicker how to milk cows (always squirting some into the dish for the barn cats), slop hogs, feed the chickens (NEVER go in the pen barefoot!) and gather eggs, call mules (and ride them because my country kin had no horses), climb in the corn crib and twist kernels from the ears to feed all those animals. I also learned to work in the fields, pick blackberries (yum! my great aunt’s cobbler was delish), climb trees to pick apples and pears, play hide & seek in the furrows between rows of corn (plus how to find the outhouse on a moonlit night after eating baby corn raw!), enjoy dinner-on-the-grounds and all-day singing at country churches, and which days of the week small stores opened with fresh churned butter, milk and homemade sausage, hams.

    Like you say, there are apps for all those experiences that our kids today are missing out on. And that doesn’t even get into the summer fun at home, playing neighborhood pick-up baseball, lying in the shade under a neighbor’s muscadine and scuppernong arbor (sampling the ripe ones), riding bikes on the smooth streets of a new subdivision, catching jars full of lightening bugs to sit on our bedside tables at night and watch the glow, and church hayrides out to the base of Stone Mountain for “weenie” and marshmallow roasts before climbing the big rock. Just to name a few.

    We didn’t need Facebook; we had neighborhoods, we had kin folks, we had church families – all of whom we talked to face-to-face or by dial phone. And a 4-party line was better for spreading gossip than twitter could ever be! Getting out of school at the first of June and going back the first Monday after Labor Day gave us the better part of three months every summer to learn things that could never be taught in a classroom or on an ipad. I actually feel sorry for today’s kids with aching thumbs and fastest texting competitions. They will never know all of life they’re missing.

    • SallyForth says:

      Well, just damn our not having the modify/delete function!!! That second paragraph should say “Like you say, there are NO apps for……”

  5. saltycracker says:

    Wonder why Charlie’s folks shipped him off for the summer ?
    Air conditioned schools are destroying our children’s perservance and robbing them of summer time fun 🙂 !!!
    Farm experience was fine as long as it is on a “gentleman’s” farm, a hobby, not a vocation.
    In Florida past, children were put outside in the A.M. & brought back in at night, dogs and plants were never allowed inside.

    You wandered unsupervised (if you don’t count your dog) in the orange groves (In fruit fights, only oranges off the ground could be used, greenies hurt & DQ’d you) , swam in clear lakes & springs, climbed in giant oak trees , caught every critter you could, chased armadillos or ghost crabs at night, rode calves, and survived barb wire fences. Christmas break was spent skiing (water skiiing) and by high school, girls in bikini’s ended your life of freedom…..

  6. Nice post, Charlie. Those childhood memories you reflect upon were actually part of the reason we decided to start a farm. I’m sure everyone gets different things out of public education, and this isn’t meant to be a criticism of Gwinnett County schools by any means… but looking back it feels to me like the schools were simply preparing me for a Monday to Friday 8 to 5 office job where you work for someone else.

    It wasn’t about entrepreneurship. It wasn’t about doing something you love. It wasn’t about how to invest so that your money is working for you – perhaps so you don’t have to spend as much time working. Life’s focus shouldn’t be around work. You only live once… why spend it in an office? (Unless spending time in an office is something you actually enjoy.) While I may not be able to offer the same opportunity to everyone, if we plan and execute right, we can at least impact how our daughter views the world.

    She won’t grow up in a neighborhood with a Home Owners Association protecting us from living next to someone with solar panels on their roof. They won’t be telling us we can’t park a boat in the driveway or backyard. And we won’t have to ask for permission to plant more fruit trees or a vegetable garden. There’s a certain gratification you get from growing and cooking your own food and from being more connected with the land.

    I was a cub scout and then a boy scout growing up. We spent many weekends and usually at least a full week as well camping at a piece of property my dad still owns on Lake Chatuge on Hiawassee. (We had running water and electricity and an old camper that we slept in when the weather was bad, so perhaps it was glorified camping, but it was camping nonetheless.)

    However, I do think year round school is probably a good idea. Perhaps as my daughter gets older having an extra week in the winter will provide enough time to take her to Sweden or Finland to experience wintertime there. Or to travel to Australia while their summer is our winter. Air travel has gotten a lot cheaper with the various advances in technology and what may not have been as accessible before is now much more affordable to the masses.

    It’s been a very long week so perhaps I’m rambling a bit. Hopefully the above is at least coherent enough that I’ll understand what I wrote when I read it again tomorrow when I’m more awake. Until then, I hope you all have a good night. 🙂

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