Rufa: School's out, and lots was waiting to happen


When I was a kid, the last day of school more or less coincided with the first day of summer, which at the time made a lot of sense. I'm sure this was why the hiatus in the school year was called "summer vacation." This isn't the case here. I suppose it's called "summer vacation," but almost a month of it takes place in spring, and I've been wondering why for 39 years.

Summer was great because not only would there be no homework and tests, there would be nothing but play day after day after day - interrupted only by a couple of weeks in the country when Pop had his annual vacation, and maybe the occasional Saturday at the beach or in one of the state parks for a picnic.

For play we had the unlimited use of two places: the street, and any vacant lot we could reach on foot or by bike. The street was obvious, because there it was, right outside our houses, and since it was a residential street to nowhere there wasn't much traffic. The street was for playing a variety of games with balls, or having battles between two opposing forces of knights in cardboard armor.

But vacant lots were something else. I cannot overstate the importance of vacant lots to a kid growing up in early 1950s Long Island. In the suburbs, which were rapidly filling up with homes and children following the war, there were still plenty of vacant lots, and they were more suited for many kids' games than their yards, which Mom and Dad, mostly refugees from the cities, were grooming like little botanical gardens. Vacant lots were not well groomed. They were untamed, a touch of the wilderness in the otherwise civilized suburbs. And in those days they were almost never littered.

The vacant lot was easily identified because it didn't contain a house, wasn't fenced, had no apparent owner (although it really did), and was largely overgrown with scrub, weeds and trees.

It just sat there between lots filled with houses, driveways, lawns, patios, picnic tables, and flower beds, waiting to be cleared and excavated for the basement of a new house. Remove all the houses, pavement, and patio furniture from the suburbs, and Long Island would be one big vacant lot.

I always came home from the vacant lot dirty, and when I took a bath the water would turn brown. But it did say in "The Boys Guide to Growing Up" that getting dirty was not only normal but essential for proper development. I wonder if kids still get dirty today. Anyone?

School didn't resume until the Wednesday after Labor Day, which also made sense because in the adult world Labor Day has always been the unofficial end of summer.

Here again this isn't the case here, and I've been wondering why for 39 years as well.