Of course, when I was a little girl, the first day of school was the very best day of school, but the next best was the last day of school. All the summer stretching out ahead of me was just marvelous, with no particular plans, except vacation in August. I had animals to tend, the garden to hoe, lawn to mow, and I had to help with the cooking and cleaning and watching the Little Kids, but other than that, free time, like no other time of the year. Plus, I got to ride my bike to school and wear shorts on the last day.
School was about five miles away, in town, so I had to get an early start. Deanna and Bonita and Vickie and me from my house, Nancy and Doug from across the road and Cathy and Tom from next door, then we picked up more kids as we got closer to school: Mike, Diane, Bob, and Annette and Brenda. We went single file for a half-mile down the paved road, until we got to Brenda’s house; the rest of the way was on dirt roads, so we could spread out any old way we wanted.
I got to wear shorts on the last day of school. Town shorts that Mom made for me, new for that summer, no every-day clothes. Every-day clothes were only for at home. I always wore shorts or slacks under my dress, so I could play on the monkey bars, but on the last day of school, I got to leave the dress at home. Almost all the girls wore shorts, except Annette; her mother was really strict, ’cause she was from the old country. Annette’s mom said that girls’ bikes were made special, so a girl’s dress would stay down the way it’s ‘supposed too and she wouldn’t have to go swinging her leg up high over the bar to hop on and off. Annette showed me the lady-like way to get on and off a bike. I swung my leg up high over the seat and coasted along as far as I could with one foot on the pedal, just ’cause it felt almost like riding a horse. Sometimes I jumped off and ran along beside the bike, then swung my leg up and over, just like HopALong Cassidy did with his horse, Topper, just like a real buckaroo. My Mom hardly ever told me how a girl was supposed to act. She just told me how to be nice and think about other people’s feeling, which didn’t have anything to do with dresses or being a girl, but it did remind me keep it to myself that Annette’s mom was all-wet with her thinking.
The last day of school, everybody played games like word-match, spelling bees and flash-card, and cleaned out our desk and said ‘goodbye’, ‘have a nice summer’ and junk like that. I was going to see half those kids in church on Sunday, anyways.
School was only a half-day, so it went by fast. I made my own picnic lunch, just like everybody else, and we ate it outside after all the squirt-gun fights. Squirt-guns were against the rules, I did it anyway, same as everybody else: I filled mine up in the bathroom, just before school got out. Man-o-man was that fun: pumping away like mad on the plastic trigger trying to get somebody in the face, and not get hit myself, but kinda hoping I would get hit, ’causes it was hot out.
Nobody I knew had air conditioning, not the houses or the schools or the churches; no cars had it. When it got super hot and muggy, I just laid around on the floor with the windows open and hoped a breeze would blow through Mom’s starchy lace curtains. I loved the way the light landed on the rug, coming through those curtains, dancing on the carpet as the breeze blew, like magic fairies, bringing a whiff of coolness, me just laying still, all spread out, picking my shirt away from my sticky skin, so the breeze could get in. That was the perfect time for reading a book.
Mom always signed me up for Weekly Reader and Book of the Month Club during the summer. The Weekly Readers were okay; like a little newspaper about current events and a cross-word puzzle, but nothing that lasted very long, and no big adventures. The Books came two at a time, both about the olden days when times were tough and adventurous. Of course I had the Book-Mobile in between to fill in the gaps, while I was waiting for a new book of my own to read.
At least some of my readers know that soon I will be out of a job. The whole summer stretching ahead of me, full of possibilities. I should be scared. I should be anxious. I should be more responsible. But I’m none of those things right now. It seems like the summer is full of possibilities just stretching out in front of me. I’m ready for some high adventure.