I was talking to one of my grandsons right before the end of May and I asked him if he had school the next week.
“Nope,” he said. “We’re already on vacation.”
“Vacation! Son, when I was your age, school WAS vacation,” I exclaimed.
I’m also pretty sure that I was not the only student at dear old Blair Branch Grade School in the 1950s and ‘60s who dreaded seeing the school year come to an end because we enjoyed reading, writing and arithmetic in the classrooms and shooting marbles, playing baseball or basketball at recess far, far more than the alternatives.
Instead of sleeping in, acting bored and gaming the summer days away in air-conditioned comfort, my summer days involved getting out of bed at least an hour earlier than normal to earn my keep on our subsistence farm. And earning my keep didn’t usually involve any cash that found its way into my pocket.
The last half of May and the first half of June found me in our commercial strawberry “patch” during the cool morning hours, up until noon, where we harvested berries that were about one-third to no more than one-half the size of what they sell in stores these days.
During that month of “strawberry season,” breakfast was eaten while I worked. Instead of putting the first, smaller, misshapen berries into the market bucket, they were eaten on the spot for the first meal of the day. Usually, around noon, we’d stop for lunch, which consisted of crushed strawberries with sugar and cream, a bologna sandwich and a glass of my favorite Kool-Aid that was any flavor but strawberry.
After lunch, we sat for hours “working up” gallons of the aforementioned low-quality berries. They were either canned whole for winter cobblers or turned into jam, but, of course, we saved enough back to make pies or a shortcake for supper to go with whatever was ready in the garden.
I always volunteered to make the garden trip to pick peas or get a cabbage head along with new potatoes, mustard greens, bib lettuce, radishes and green onions. I’d have volunteered for nearly anything to get away from strawberries for awhile even though I did love to ride with Dad after he ended his day at the mine and we delivered the better and best berries to customers throughout Letcher and parts of Knott and Perry counties.
The lettuce, radishes and green onions were tossed together and then scalded with sizzling bacon grease for, what I consider, one of the very finest dishes known to man. All that grease may have contributed to the two strokes I’ve suffered but, if I had it to do over, I’d eat it all again.
After strawberry season ended there were beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and myriad other vegetables to be hoed, picked and then canned or dried. The work was never ending but we did take a few minutes off before dark to dam up a little, waist-deep hole of water about eight feet wide and 15 feet long in “the branch” just in front of our house. We called it a “swimming hole” but all I ever saw actually swimming in it were the half dozen ducks and geese we usually kept on the place for no apparent reason. The water was cold because it had hardly been touched by the sun from its origin at a mountain spring about a mile on up the holler.
I actually considered picking blackberries in July to be a nice diversion from regular work. Even though it meant, climbing steep mountains, shedding blood from deep scratches, scratching dozens of chigger bites and taking the risk of getting a copperhead bite, picking blackberries did not involve the use of a bull tongue or double shovel plow, a sweaty horse or contrary mule nor a long handled hoe.
I literally couldn’t wait for August to roll around so that school could start back up when I was still a pup. We may have had three months away from school when I was a boy, but it certainly was not what anyone would have called a vacation.
As far I was concerned, the first day of school was the start of my vacation.