Friday, June 17, 2011

`I Am the Past, and That Is All'

The last day of school – magical words, like “Christmas morning.” Summer meant liberation, twelve hours every day outdoors, in the fields, woods and creek. We grew up in a Cleveland suburb, in the nineteen-fifties and –sixties, and had no idea of our good fortune. No summer camp, summer school, calendar or itinerary. Every kid, we assumed, played Army and chess, chased butterflies and learned the names of flowers and trees. We couldn’t imagine a kid unable to keep himself amused. That was a malady for grownups. But even the pleasures of childhood are mutable.

Kids in my school seem to value summer less for what it is than for what it isn’t – that is, school. They go to camp because – well, because they have to be somewhere. They join leagues and classes, with little anticipation of pleasure. I have no grand theory to explain it or solutions to fix it. The wonder of summer, as I remember it, seems faded. Chesterton writes in Tremendous Trifles, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”

School yearbooks arrived Thursday. Kids clamored for autographs. Most I signed “Mr. Patrick,” as most of them know me. We’re encouraged not to pick favorites, but that’s a discipline I’ve never mastered. Almost daily since the start of the school year, a kindergartener has hugged me each time she saw me. She’s a naturally loving child, but seems inexplicably fond of me. She was born in Chicago, of middle-aged parents newly arrived from Rumania. I have three boys, no girls, and she allowed me to imagine what it might be like to have a daughter. I signed her yearbook at length, telling her I would miss her but would always remember her, and that she should take good care of her parents, who always take good care of her. She taught me something new about Yvor Winters’ “At the San Francisco Airport,” dedicated “To my daughter, 1954,” in particular this stanza:

“And you are here beside me, small,
Contained and fragile, and intent
On things that I but half recall—
Yet going whither you are bent.
I am the past, and that is all.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Patrick.

I grew up in the 50s and some of my most memorable days were last days of school -- our teachers seemed to use the day to help us see how far we'd come and they used to spend a bit of time with each of us, saying goodbye and leaving us with something to remember, something perhaps to think about over the summer.

By the time I was a teacher, the main focus of the last day of school was to find some place to put the children (a movie in the library or a chance to sit on the bleachers in the gym and do nothing all day) while teachers worked on grades or packed up their rooms. I was always frustrated by that attitude -- I wanted special time to say goodbye to each child. I thought the school year deserved to have an ending -- a day to think about special memories and accomplishments.

I was touched by your math student's question (in a piece from last week) about whether or not she could email you if she needed help. I had reading students in 8th grade who sometimes dreaded moving onto the high school -- Suppose the teachers there don't help me or give me extra time to do my work?

Thank you for bringing that back to me.

George said...

Out of curiosity, what suburb? I lived on an edge of the Parma (triangle) for a bit of the 50s and most of the 60s. We had relatives in Rocky River and Lakewood.