Labor Day used to signal the official end of summer. The municipal pool locked its gates, the parks were nearly empty during the week and family vacation time had all been spent.
Dads packed away the camping gear while moms made sure there were clean shoes and decent clothes for that first day of school. It was also the time when kids were scrambling to clean out their book bags, find those No. 2 pencils, and start hoping they got the "nice" teacher this year.
But something changed, and summer got squeezed on both ends. Now kids don't start their break from school until after Memorial Day, and many of them are required to report back to class in August, sometimes two full weeks before Labor Day.
It has never seemed right.
There should have been a protest, a peasant revolt, somebody with a bullhorn shouting for justice. Kids already grow up too fast, and then this modification to the school calendar came along, and kids got their kid time cut short.
This is not another one of those diatribes about how great things were in the good old days. Just a simple inquiry over what ever happened to our summer.
It was not all that long ago that kids spent the summer doing nothing while doing a little bit of everything. They slept in one day then they got up real early the next. They built crude bike ramps out of dad's scrap lumber. They took things apart out in the garage, never considering the fact they didn't pay close enough attention to put them back together again.
Kids played in the rain and got soaked. They got covered in mud and nobody fretted about them catching a cold or pneumonia. They intentionally walked in puddles and splashed each other, long before there were super soaker guns or backyard slippy slides.
There were simple neighborhood baseball games nearly every day, but never on a regular schedule, never with umpires or adults around, and never with permanent teams. Whoever showed up at whatever time it was, that's who played. We kept score, but nobody remembered the result the next day.
Some enterprising kids actually ran lemonade stands, and nobody worried about germs or used antibacterial hand lotions.
The lemonade was never that good, but it was cheap and there was the novelty of the whole thing.
Not that long ago, kids did not have their summers chewed up by band camp and AAU basketball and travel leagues and science camp. Kids learned a lot, but they learned it in a very casual, unstructured environment where they entertained themselves by being simply creative.
They bolted two bikes together and called it a tandem. They found bugs and toads in the yard and kept them in jars or boxes for a while. They watched birds build nests, or collected night crawlers with a flashlight.
Summer as a kid meant grabbing the fishing poles and a coffee can of worms and jumping on your bike to go fish the reservoir or Wolf Creek, the Sandusky or the Portage rivers. Nobody wore helmets, nobody worried about getting abducted, and occasionally, the fish were really biting.
Summer used to be hundreds of random acts of unbridled fun. Tire swings, tree houses, home run derby wiffle ball games and slingshots. Nobody ever watched TV during the day.
Never. There was just too much to do that was a lot more fun.
Now there is much less summer for kids to get out of the classroom, away from the structured life, and be kids. Maybe it's safer and it is more productive and they'll possibly gain a point on their SAT score, but is it really worth it.
What they've lost in this newer, shorter and much more demanding summer is a precious part of being a kid.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
Contact him at: