A countdown began on the Friday before the last week of the school year. That's right, one week before the last day of school. Walking home from school that Friday we ran, the whole neighborhood; this day was practically a holiday itself. You could tell that there was only one week left because the rules were ignored.
Ordinarily, students weren't allowed to run in the schoolyard, which like most controlled areas was as neat as a newly mown lawn. We threw our papers into the air and ran despite the NO RUNNING rule.
Mr. Colbourn, our principal, standing in his usual spot in front of the school next to the custodian lowering the flag, smiled and waved us home. All of the kids in my grammar school lived close enough to walk to and from school, but on this special Friday, we ran tossing papers, book bags, and tinny lunch boxes scampering like monkeys through trees. Our principal was strict, but he was a nice man who must have had his own kids at home; I think he loved to see us so happy.
Unlike now, we dressed-up for school. We wore to school the same clothing that we'd wear to church. Dressy pants, tucked in shirts, and lace up polished shoes, not sneakers. Sneakers were only allowed on gym days.
The year at school had been a year of clearly explained sensible rules. Responsibility, and reward were hand in glove. For example:
- We walked to school in all weather, forming 2 lines outside of the school in the morning, one for boys and one for girls, quietly waiting for "the bell".
- "The Bell" took the place of an on-site adult. If we had been quiet and well behaved outside of the school before the morning bell, then our teachers might overlook minor transgressions. When the morning bell rang we were required to walk directly to our classrooms. It would then ring about 10 minutes later then attendance was taken. Every morning we'd stand next to our desks, right hands over our hearts say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem.
- The bell signaled recess, lunch, library, gym, art, music and assemblies. The bell was like a signal light, red-light and green light, stop and start.
- The last bell signaled the end of the school day; but at this particular time of year it also clanged for Summer, the air felt like it does before a thunderstorm, loaded with kinetic anticipation.
The only bells that rang in the Summer were the hand-held bells our mother's rang that summoned us for dinner. It seemed that every family had a bell, each with a different tone. Doorbells rang when we called on our friends to come out to play. Telephones rang, but these bells summoned adults. My favorite bell rang every afternoon and evening before dark as the ice cream man drove up our street.
But the sweetest bell of all was the bell that rang at the end of the day on the last day of school. Even the kids who were too little to go to school knew that Summer had finally arrived.