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.