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Jeff Ward: The Last Day of Summer Vacation Stinks!

A 53 year-old's lament for the end of summer.

Forget F. Scott Fitzgerald. You can keep your Faulkners, your Prousts and your Melvilles. Bill Shakespeare, John Milton, James Joyce? Not even close. Take John Steinbeck, please! If I wanted to get that depressed I’ll just watch Fox News. You can throw authors at me till you’re blue in the face, but no piece of prose on the planet can compare to this:

“When I was a kid, the worst of all days was the last day of summer vacation, and we were in the schoolyard playing softball, and the sun was down and it was getting dark. But I didn’t want it to get dark. I didn't want the game to end. It was too good, too much fun. I wanted it to stay light forever, so we could keep on playing forever, so the game would go on and on. That’s how I feel now. C’mon, c’mon. Let's play one more inning. One more at bat. One more pitch. Just one? Stick around, guys. We can’t break up this team. It’s too much fun.”

That’s the lament the late great Pulitzer-Prize-winning Sun-Times Columnist Mike Royko wrote for his beloved Chicago Daily News, which closed down on March 3, 1978. To this day, it gives me goose bumps whenever I read it.

Nothing else so perfectly describes that sinking feeling I still get, even at 53 years of age, on that eminently depressing final 24 hours of summer vacation.

C’mon! One more day. One more round of catch in the pool. One more game of tennis. Let’s make one more soccer ball basket using just our feet. Just one more early morning family run.

Sure! With the exception of , we’ll get all that in before the snowflakes fly, but it’s not the same. That unbound sense of endless summer is about to come crashing down on us.

Go ahead and debate the merits of meteorological summer versus the autumnal equinox. Nothing marks the season’s end more resolutely than the sour screech of that .

And there's nothing like the start of a new school year to snap you back right back into temporal reality. My sons are another year older and one of ‘em is heading off to for the first time!

How did this happen? And right under my nose, no less! You see, I’m one of those fortunate fathers who works at home and has gotten to see his sons grow up. But I could swear they were just playing with their Power Rangers a few days ago.

High school? That was light years away! My sixth-grader let me walk both he and the dog to the bus stop last year, but that ain't about to happen with a seventh-grader.

I certainly understand those, like my wife, who ascribe to that Staple’s commercial “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” back-to-school sentiment. I’ll even admit it’s somewhat more difficult to write a column when your 12-year-old insists on regaling you with every detail of his Nintendo DS Pokemon world.

I can only hope state Sen. Chris Lauzen didn’t overhear the who-could-make-the-loudest-fart-sound contest that spontaneously erupted during our last conversation. Then there was that Mythbusters argument that raged to the point where we had finally to separate them.

So even though it’s about to get a lot easier to compose a column, for my taste, the house is about to get a bit quieter than it should be. When those school buses roll right back around in the afternoon, we’ll get right back to playing more basketball soccer.

We’ll curse the ever-shortening days together until that infuriating disappearance of Daylight Savings Time renders our protests obsolete.

Speaking of futility, as that last day of summer vacation rolls around, (it will have passed when this has posted), like my journalistic hero, I’ll once again start begging that sympathetic summer sun to stay stuck in the western sky until I’m ready for it to set. C’mon! One more day! Just a few more hours.

But despite those past and present entreaties, as Royko also wrote, “…the sun always went down.”

It always does.

Rudy August 24, 2011 at 12:06 PM
Nice column Jeff my sentiments exactly minus the sporadic rant against fiscal conservatives. I was last minute shopping with my 12 year old son last night as it seems the shoes we just bought him have already been out grown? He hadn’t even worn them yet! He complained of his last summer freedom being spent roaming the aisle of a local retailer. Lamenting this is NOT how it is suppose to end! I need to get in one more video game before bed. Rudy O.
Denise Linke August 24, 2011 at 03:53 PM
It doesn't get less poignant when the kid(s) go away to college. Working at home is easier in an empty house (the time my 2-year-old interrupted a phone interview by picking up the upstairs extension phone to announce that he was "poopy" comes to mind). But I miss having him burst through the door at 4 p.m. eager to tell me about his day. Thank heaven for e-mail and unlimited evening cellphone minutes! Anyway, thanks for the great column -- see you at the Corn Boil tonight!
Colin C. August 24, 2011 at 04:55 PM
Jeff, that was beautifully stated. I've been retired nine years now, our children are long ago grown and on their own. But still, somehow this day makes me pause and think. For the last decade of my professional career I taught an Associates Degree program in Addictions Counseling in a Community College. My students average age was mid 30's and most were themselves in recovery. This may sound strange but they were my heros. It was almost unimaginable what many of them had overcome and now here they were in college, preparing to help others. Many went on to get graduate degrees and are saving lives today. I am so proud of them and what they have and are accomplishing. And at this time of the year somehow I still miss that first day of class and those wonderful people. I miss them terribly. So, for me it's not the end of summer that fills me with sadness but missing the beginning of school. But, on the other hand I do not miss the rigorous schedule, the 14 hour days, the pressures, the emergencies, the politics, and all the BS that went along with the job outside the classroom. That helps---some.
Terry Flanagan August 24, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Jeff, be thankful you have those afterschool hours still. Before too long the kids will be off to college and on their own. You'll then be at the point in your life where, as Red Green describes it, the wife realizes she'll be spending the rest of her life alone with you and breaks down into periodic fits of uncontrollable sobbing. Very nice piece. I enjoyed it. And you reminded me how much we miss Royko.
Brian Carroll August 24, 2011 at 07:17 PM
"...like my journalistic hero, I’ll..." -- This comes awful close to insinuating that you're a journalist, Jeff. This makes it especially problematic for me to defend the things you write with the "opinion columnist" argument. While I vehemently disagree with your consistent lack of investigation, that title made it justifiable.
Jeff Ward August 25, 2011 at 12:03 PM
I should probably just ignore this but an opinion columnist, like Mike Royko, is a journalist. A reporter is a journalist. The folks that take the pictures that appear in the paper are journalists. Someone like the Sun-Times Stephanie Zimmerman, who helps out consumers, is a journalist. Sportswriters are journalists. Each one has a different role with different expectations, but in the end they come together to create a newspaper - online or off. Mr. Carroll, might I suggest taking up a hobby that would occupy all that time you expend reading my columns.
John Locke August 26, 2011 at 12:22 AM
Jeff, this was actually one of your better journalistic efforts. Royko is, of course, a terrific role model. The Fox news and Chris Lauzen jabs detracted from the overall tone of the piece - but you did manage to capture a little of that melancholy feeling that accompanies the end of summer. John
Jeff Ward August 26, 2011 at 03:09 AM
John, Thanks, but that wasn't a jab at Chris at all. My sons were goofing off while he and I were talking! Jeff

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