The second hand on the clock above the chalkboard seemed to tick backwards. It was the last day of school at Highlands Elementary, which meant an early dismissal and Olympic Day. By far, the best day of the year in the best month of the year! December was a close second, but Christmas was just one day and the school break only a couple of weeks. June’s break went all the way through Labor Day! The bell finally rang, and the games began: three-legged races, tug-of-war and the highly competitive 50-yard dash.
The next day kicked off endless hours of bike riding, playing in the river and sleepovers. At night we would find the mosquito abatement truck and follow right behind it on our bikes, wallowing in its fog and grinning ear to ear even while our eyes burned.
A few years later, hearing the school’s bell ring for the last time at Washington Jr. High, the sheer joy of running out the doors and leaving another school year behind remains an unforgettable life highlight. By now our bike leashes extended to Centennial Beach! To kill time before it opened, we’d play hours of Monopoly. Then, with the few bucks we made cutting lawns, we’d hit Cock Robin for a slider or four and a One-in-a-Million shake. As soon as the Beach opened we’d run and claim a pier, and play Pier Tag until dinnertime. We also started noticing girls, especially the “older” ones sitting on The Wall near the deep end with all the teenagers. We wondered if we’d ever be old enough to date them
Three years later, at Naperville Central, we found out. The last day of school was now somewhat anti-climactic, what with all the ditch days in May. The start of summer was now about working part time and saving the money to buy a car. Real freedom awaited us on four wheels. Road trips to Great America, Starved Rock and Devil’s Lake with our girlfriends and buddies replaced our two wheeled treks to the Beach. We learned the value of work, the joys of the road and our first tastes of adulthood.
Sometime later, after college and full time work became our lives, the anticipation of the last day of class was replaced with Friday night and the beginning of a weekend. It was never quite the same.
Now in retirement, life is good and I savor every day. But what I wouldn’t give to experience that joyous feeling of anticipating the bell’s ring and bolting out the doors to greet a new summer in Naperville!