2010-10-14 / Sam Bari

The importance of saving summer

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

During the fall, when the leaves start to turn and the distinct nip of winter permeates the air, I cannot help but reminisce about summers past. I dedicated my youth to celebrating that wonderful time of year.

My heart goes out to children when they don knapsacks filled with books and bravely wave good-bye to their families before boarding buses, as if they were little soldiers going to war.

I know that they have resigned themselves to accept the inevitable — nine months of daily incarceration.

When I was growing up, summer belonged to children. Nobody dared violate the sanctity of summer.

Until the day that an unscrupulous teacher decided children were having too much fun and they should be strapped with summer reading.

At first, we could read whatever we wanted, barring comic books and magazines. We had to read actual books.

Every spring, teachers across the country announced that students would be writing book reports on summer reading assignments when they returned in the fall.

The morning following the last day of school, I refilled my knapsack with a swimsuit, fishing tackle and a few staples that included a jar of peanut butter and a box of Malt Balls.

We had long forgotten the summer reading assignment by the time I hit the road with my friend, Brian, at six o’clock in the morning.

We spent the summer fishing, communing with nature and living off the land. We laughed constantly, drank pure water from icy, spring-fed streams and took showers in sun-warmed rain. We made Huckleberry Finn look like a city slicker. Life was fabulous.

We didn’t think about the summer reading assignment until we were back in school the following fall. The teacher didn’t broach the subject of summer reading until two weeks before the quarterly report cards came out.

At the beginning of class, she said that we would spend the period writing a report on the book we read that summer. The report would count for one third of our grade.

I hadn’t read anything other than Mad Magazine, but I didn’t panic.

I’m not sure if I had a premonition of how I was to spend the rest of my life, or if nothing more than my survival instincts kicked in and saved me, but I wrote a report on a fictitious book.

I fictionalized a real-life experience by making the story much more dramatic than it really was.

When I was nine years old, a classmate saw two school bullies stealing lunches from the lunchroom refrigerator. The bullies didn’t see him watching until after they had stolen the lunches. They told my classmate that they would beat him within an inch of his life if he told anyone. Then they followed him to class.

The kid was smart. He wrote a note on his homework that told the teacher to check the bullies’ knapsacks. When he handed in the assignment, she read the note and indeed did check their knapsacks. The bullies were caught with the stolen lunches and they never figured out how the teacher knew.

That story turned into a report on a fictional book called “Ozzie.” It was a story about Oswald Mc- Creedy, a kid who lived in a small town in the Midwest.

He saw two local ruffians rob a hardware store early in the morning, when he was going fishing. The robbers saw him and recognized him. They called him by name and threatened him. A chase ensued, but they couldn’t catch him.

I wove a convoluted tale of how Ozzie got word to the sheriff and solved the crime. My teacher read the report and said that she had never heard of the book. She asked who wrote it, and I invented a name for the fictitious author. She looked suspicious, never having heard of him either.

She asked to see the book, but I told her that I found it on my great aunt’s bookshelf. She lived on a farm more than 100 miles away. The latter was the only part that was true.

The teacher gave me a good grade, but the following spring, the assignment was different. We had to choose a book from an approved list of titles — most of which were literary classics.

Nonetheless, I saved one summer from being violated by schoolwork, and I got away with it. Taking summer away from kids is part of this system that I will never understand.

Return to top