By Teddy Allen
We couldn’t afford a bicycle then, so I learned early how to stick my thumb out in the wind and hitch a ride in a pickup or on a tractor the two miles into our rural Carolina town for my first-grade classes.
My parents believed in tough love.
They were Old School, even though I was the very definition of New School.
Since they had to walk to school uphill 16 miles and back home, again uphill, for 17, they figured I was getting off easy by having to flag down a ride for just two measly miles. “And FLAT miles at that!” I can hear them say, maybe tough lovingly.
Of course, modern kids have gotten soft now and don’t hitchhike to school as they once did. Don’t get me started. . .
Here’s something else that’s changed, and not for the better.
No matter how “bored” or out of sorts you might have gotten with school back then — and even those of us who actually secretly sort of liked school and realized it was “good for us” wanted to run away now and then – we knew the Start Game and the End Game. And that helped.
The Great State of South Carolina and all us little children there cut a deal with each other: the state owned us from right after Labor Day until Memorial Day. No questions asked. You’d get a day at Thanksgiving and Easter and a few days at Christmastime, the Super Bowl Week of being a kid, but the rest of the time, your denim-covered butt was in a desk at Lake View Elementary.
BUT … they could not touch us from Memorial Day until Labor Day. No one even SAID “school” during June, July and August. We were a hands-off, school-free zone.
Summer, with all its bee stings and scraped knees and bologna sandwiches, was ours.
We could play AND we could make all the money, picking cucumbers or driving a tractor or, depending on how low you were to the ground, picking up tobacco sticks at the barn if your leg wasn’t long enough to reach the clutch on a Farmall yet.
Just thinking about it makes me want to kick off my shoes and go run in the grass and step on a nail and have to go get a tetanus shot. (Even summer had its risks. But the risks were worth it.)
Somewhere along the way, it was decided by Grownups that school would start Early, and so children are back at school this week even though it’s just now double-digits in August. (We’re talking dates, not temperature.) There will be “breaks” and the number of days spent in class will be the same now as they were back when I went to school, back when only four vowels and 22 consonants had been invented.
And maybe it’s better that way, but you ask people from our generation, and we’ll tell you being out for three months solid was the way to go, that even the thought of hitching a ride to school in August was a two-thumbs-down deal.
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