Today is the last day of the last weekend of my summer vacation. I work at an elementary school, so I get a nice break every year when school is out. This summer, however, didn’t turn out quite as I had planned. Marked by family and friends passing, and taking care of friends and family who needed me, this summer was not the carefree holiday I remember from my childhood days. Today, I feel like becoming an adult was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done!
Our family was poor, but we are large and loving enough that as a child, I took no notice that I was missing anything in life. We gathered together often, and enjoyed one another immensely. My cousins were my best friends, so when the neighborhood kids and I had a falling out, all I had to do was call on my cousins for playmates. I liked my cousins better, anyway. They understood me and my moody ways.
During summer vacation, Great Grandma Rosie would rent a camp on Lake Pontchartrain for two weeks, and the whole tribe would stay there. She said it brought back memories of her own childhood at the Filipino shrimping village called Manila Village. She and my Grandma Lillian told stories of how hard the life was there, and how wonderful the times were when the work was done. They told us that family is the most important thing in life, and we were told it often enough that it became our own mantra.
The camps at Little Woods were awful, now that I see them with adult memory. They had no screens on the windows, or if they did, there were holes in them. At night, we went through the ritual of being slathered with a toxic potion called 6-12 oil, and my Parran (whom I called Ranzy) would fog the room with some stuff that I’m sure contained DDT to keep the mosquitoes at bay. How we survived that, and lived to be senior citizens, is beyond comprehension.
Our sleeping arrangements were horrible! The adults got the beds and cots, and we had to sleep on blankets on the floor. We stayed up talking during the nice, breezy part of the night, but by the time we got sleepy, in the still of the night, the heat suffocated us and gave us an uneasy rest. But we were young and hit the floor running at sunrise anyway!
The plumbing was…nasty! The toilets flushed into the very lake we swam in. But, we didn’t care. We just made sure we avoided the brown mullets floating bye. Yeah, I know. But you can’t keep a kid out of the water in the summertime.
We’d set out crab nets every day, and had a crab boil every evening. Aunt Joyce taught us how to throw out a cast net as soon as we were tall enough to hold one, and we’d catch bait for our fishing enjoyment. Each night, the boys went gigging for flounder. We learned how to live off of the bounty of Louisiana’s waters during those summers.
I remember Grandma Lillian teaching us to play poker with pennies – or matchsticks during the lean years. I remember learning conflict resolution because the adults were set on enjoying their vacation and never interfered with our childhood drama. I remember feeling a hole in my heart the first time we went to camp after Grabdma Rosie died. But Grandma Lillian made sure we kept up our summer tradition well into my adulthood.
I had crushes on every one of my big brother’s friends. I and my girl cousins acted like total idiots whenever they came to spend the night at the camp. We had not a worry in the world in Little Woods, and that’s as it should have been on summer vacation.
After Grandma Lillian died, and we all grew up, and the world got complicated, we forgot what summer vacation was supposed to be. Every year, our kids and now, our grand kids, come home on the last day of school with summer reading lists and math packets. Hurricane Katrina scattered us far and wide, and the current generation cannot experience the safety net of extended family that knit us so tightly together. My summers are filled with adult responsibilities, with a day of fun here and there. Sometimes, adulthood sucks.
So here I am, about to begin another school year without having had much of a vacation. I’ll survive, I’ll enjoy being back in the classroom, and I’ll vow like I always do to make the best of my vacation next summer. But I’m full of sadness over the direction our society as a whole has moved in over the years.
We are in too much of a hurry to get things done. Some of those things don’t even need doing, but we do them anyway, losing many opportunities to relax and enjoy one another’s company. Children are so stressed over a false sense of urgency TO DO that they don’t get to enjoy just BEING a kid.
I don’t like what life has become: a manic race to the grave. But I realize full well that if I expect anything to change, I have to change my own priorities. I have to enjoy every day off, I have to make family time part of my routine, and the enjoyment of life part if my daily schedule. I am often heard saying, “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”, but that’s a lie. My great grandmother and my grandmother had the same 24 hours, but they knew how to use them better. I have to remember them, remember how they did it, and model my life after them.