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.”