Nothing beats ‘summer school’


As the simplicity of summertime bows to bus schedules, long days and short nights, it still makes me wistful after all these years. In the final week before school was set to begin, two of my nephews and their families joined us for a fun evening. With all joyful play and no watching of the clock, it was a good time for us all.

Oliver, now 5, had a big summer, learning to ride a bike without training wheels and swimming without a life jacket. It makes me so happy knowing he learned to swim here at our place, and it is already clear it is going to be a lifelong love for him, just as it has been for me.

When I asked Oliver about starting kindergarten, he said, “Yeah, I gotta go. When I go to school, I know I gotta do school stuff. When I get home, that’s when I do my farmin’ and help my Dad.”

When I told Oliver it’s a good thing Johnny, 3, and 1-year-old Autumn can help both mom and dad when he is at school, this little man practically rolled his blue eyes, indicating I am totally in the dark on reality. He looked quite serious as he said to me, “Oh, you just can’t believe all the stuff they don’t know about farmin’ yet.”

I remember childhood summer days of helping with farm work, in endless sunlight, labor tempered with play. I can say that while I never disliked school, there was no doubt that summer was the best season of them all.

Best summers ever

In retrospect, I think we learned as much on those summer breaks as we did during an entire year of school. Hot dogs and marshmallows toasted over a fire after swimming to sheer exhaustion remains better than a high-dollar dining experience.

I recall the best summer ever: learning the thrill of doing a flip off the diving board, that utter thrill of being suspended in mid-air before plunging in to the always cold farm pond; under-water somersaulting as many times as one held breath could allow; mastering a dolphin dive after many belly flops; pedaling a bike so fast before reaching the big hill that it felt like taking flight.

While other kids told of facts learned on trips to exotic places over their summer break, my highlight of what I’d learned one summer was that baling straw was pretty great compared to baling hay.

Life lessons

What I’m learning as I grow older is that I was busy experiencing great things during those long summer days. I just didn’t know it. It didn’t involve travel itineraries or a packed suitcase or a travel guide. Instead, it was filled with the joy of putting on a swimsuit first thing in the morning, layered with cruddy hand-me-down clothes for working in the milking parlor and on the hay wagons.

Between loads of hay or straw, we ran like wild horses toward the pond, our clothes thrown on a pile. The minute we heard the tractor returning with a new wagon to unload, whining was never going to get us out of it. The quicker we got to it, the sooner we could jump back in and swim.

At the end of every day, I wrote of our adventures in my diary. My big sister learned to shoot groundhogs that summer, a dead sure-shot. Another sister began planning her own business in all sorts of small-scale projects, the first step toward success she now enjoys.

We worked hard, but in between the jobs we roamed free on hundreds of acres of isolated and tranquil farm ground. We were busy becoming who we were meant to be, all under the big blue sky of summer.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.



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