I remember the feeling so well. Sitting in the classroom at Bessborough Public School in early June, dreaming of summer vacation. The weeks never dragged more slowly than when the sun was out, the temperature was high, and we were wearing shorts and T-shirts to school. Yes, those final school days in June crawled by in what seemed like geological time.
Unless my memory is as hazy as the summer heat rising off the schoolyard pavement, I don’t think Bessborough was air-conditioned in those halcyon days. I have a vivid memory from the very warm June we had in 1968. I remember sitting in my Grade 3 class working on yet another in a seemingly endless cascade of math worksheets, streaming sweat from the heat and my arithmetic-addled head. (Yes, I agree. I don’t think I look that old either. Thank you for noticing.)
All I could think of was breaking free of Bessborough’s bonds for two whole months of blessed summer vacation. And I will never forget that giddy sensation when the hands of the clock finally made it to 2:30, the traditional early departure time on the last day of school – almost as if the teachers simply could not make it all the way to the traditional 3:30 quitting time on that final day. Our report cards were handed out when finally the bell rang. We rushed from the classroom reciting what we considered at the time to be a very creative and clever little ditty: “No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks.” Brilliant. Provocative. Original. Yes, we thought we’d invented the timeless chant.
I think our mother and father were just as eager for the school year to end as we were so we could get out of town. Even though we lived but four blocks from Bessborough, I well recall our parents picking my twin brother Tim and me up from school that last day in June 1968. The family station wagon was already packed to the gunwales for the long drive to the cottage to start our summer. No need to delay our escape. We’ll leave right from school! They must have been just desperate to escape the city to fetch us directly from school when we lived so close. I guess they wanted to leave nothing to chance. I mean, who knows what could have happened in our 10-minute walk from Bessborough to the old homestead at Parkhurst and Donegall. Or perhaps they wanted to better the odds that our report cards actually made it into their hands. That was the year our teacher admitted to our parents that she couldn’t tell Tim and me apart in the classroom (or anywhere else) and so had given us identical grades. Mom and Dad were not amused. I was offended, too, given my advanced faculties and my brother’s well-documented deficits.
Then, bliss. We’d spend the entire summer at the cottage with our mother, while Dad joined us on weekends. We’d spend the day on the dock, in the water, aboard a boat or in the woods. For three weeks in July, Tim and I would then be packed off to a remote island in the southwest arm of Lake Temagami for summer camp. It was idyllic.
At that age, we’re simply not equipped to understand that we’d never again be quite as carefree. But strangely, when the summer wound down, and September beckoned, we were always excited to get back to school. Not so much for the book reports, math quizzes, and scale models of the solar system, but just to reconnect with the school friends who’d been away all summer just as we had. It usually took until about 2:00 p.m. on that first day back to Bessborough after Labour Day before we started dreaming about the next summer vacation. And the cycle began anew.