COMMENTARY

The origin of summer vacation—and memories

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Ah, the start of school. Composition notebooks across America will have Page One full of answers to the familiar journal prompt: “How I spent summer.”


Students remember sandy buckets full of seashells or maybe baskets full of a garden’s bounty. Some little traditionalists will write of family reunions, slip-n-slides, and breezy naps in a hammock. For others, milestones like learning to swim or losing the training-wheels will mark Summer 2019.


Summer is over. Well, kind of…but not really. Though my neighbor’s air conditioner continues to roar like a ferocious bear, and hotdogs and popsicles are still constants on my grocery list, autumn décor is everywhere. I’ve even heard mention of pumpkin spice! It seems to me that the lens of consciousness is either focused on what did or didn’t happen in the past and what we hope for during these special seasons—summer break, Christmas vacation, the weekend—but what about the now?


In 2014, PBS published an article about the origins of summer vacation. While most assume days off are a result of America’s agrarian roots, our current school calendar is more of a result of the urban schools’ attendance observations. Consider it: an agrarian-based calendar would consider the need for extra hands during the spring for planting and the fall for harvesting.


According to the article, in 1842, New York City students were in session 248 days a year (a stark contrast to today’s approximately 180 school days). Decades before the invention of AC, big cities were sweltering, students were sweaty, and attendance was struggling as urban families beat the summer heat by heading to the beach or countryside. When school reformers of the late 19th century wanted to standardize the school calendar across the nation, they claim to have compromised…thus granting students (and those poor teachers!) freedom from a sticky, sweaty classroom in summertime.


I know future moments and the sweetest memories come from making the most of every minute. It may sound harsh, but we aren’t assured 18 summers at home with our children or even time together next weekend. All we have is now. My hope for your family and mine is that we make the most of those moments. I pray their journals are full of sweet memories and future pages full of promise.


Neena Gaynor is a Kentucky wife, mother, daughter and beekeeper who does life in Owensboro. She also writes on her blog at 
www.wordslikehoney.com. and can be reached via email at neenagaynor@gmail.com.

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