San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

July 17th, 2008
The Devil’s Clack Dish: Curing the summer doldrums

The Devil’s Clack Dish: A Column
By HAP MANSFIELD
Scene Editor

When I was a kid, this was always the time of year that started to lag. I didn’t want to do much of anything and life seemed hot and boring.

The Fourth of July fireworks were over, I was tired of the noisy public swimming pool, I had already spent all my birthday money on paper dolls and candy and I didn’t want to be outside in the heat or inside in front of the television and the box fan (very few families had air conditioning then).

All the salamanders in the window wells had already been caught, named, turned into pets and died. All the “freeze tag” and  “statues” and “red rover” games were too much effort for too little fun. I wanted to do something really fabulous and exciting. I just didn’t want to have to make it up myself.

The ice cream truck, which used to sound its merry chiming music so happily, just conjured up images of another boring old Bomb Pop. Jumping through the sprinkler (do kids still do that?) was muddy and stupid. Playing catch with my brother at twilight went from really, really fun to just okay fun because there was nothing else to do.

Movies, whether at the theater or on television, took too long. Nobody wants to sit that long in one place, especially not in the summer.

Summer vacation, that thing I had looked forward to with happy, restless anticipation all year, was rapidly turning into a bust.

How many fireflies (we called them lightning bugs) can you catch in a jar before you start feeling really sorry for them? The poor fireflies were probably looking forward to flying around all summer and there they were trapped in a dull old jar. And they’d have to go back to firefly school in a few weeks and they hadn’t gotten to do any of the things they wanted to because they were stuck in a jar, the poor little things.

My mother, God bless her, tried to think of fun activities to do, but, frankly, the games she made up like “Let’s hang up the wet laundry on the clothesline and pretend it’s a castle!” and “Who can clean out strawberry jelly jars the fastest?” were suspiciously similar to boring old chores.

It was the dreaded summer doldrums, which know no era.

Whether you are tired of playing pirate with a wooden sword in the neighbor’s back yard or within the confines of a video game, the fact remains that the shtick is old and dull.

Then, one summer, my mom said, “Why don’t we go to the library and check out a few books?” This comment was met with snorts of derision but we went anyway with the promise of McDonald’s at the end of the trip.

I wonder how many people will relate to this? When I entered the library it was cool (air conditioning!) and smelled of books (especially the ubiquitous perma-bound ones). It was that paper and ink smell, almost musty and yet comforting. The place was so quiet and well ordered that it felt like heaven to me.

While my mom looked for cookbooks and Gladys Taber volumes, I scanned the shelves, found what sounded like an exciting title, sat down and got totally engrossed in a story. I remember my heart pounding with excitement as I read Howard Pyle’s <i>Men of Iron</i>.

The McDonald’s enticement soon became superfluous. How could a flat little hamburger compete with T.H. White’s <i>The Once and Future King</i>?  And what movie has ever been scarier than Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” or “Cask of Amontillado”? What can more vividly bring to life a kid’s fantasies than Stevenson’s <i>Treasure Island</i>? What movie was ever better than Dickens’s <i>Great Expectations</i> or <i>The Three Musketeers</i> by Alexandre Dumas?  

So I got hooked. Reading is a drug and the more you read the more you want to read. A side effect of this drug is that the more you read, the better your reading skills are and then, the more you want to read. The best part about the reading drug is that you can still get high long after you are addicted. There is no other drug that can claim this.

I know there were many times my mom wished she’d never taken me to the library on that hot, boring, summer day. I buried my face in a book whenever I could. When she would call me to do chores or eat dinner, I couldn’t even hear her because I was so intent on my reading.

And I’ve never had a dull moment in my life since. Not one.

If you or your kids are bored this summer, you will reap rich rewards at the local public libraries. But be warned — once you start your kids reading, you run the risk of their addiction. They’ll want to go to college. They will do better on exams than their friends. They will get scholarships, good jobs and make more money than you do. But above all, they will be thinking, compassionate people, able to understand and empathize with the variety of human types to whom they are exposed by literature. Are you sure you want your children to suffer like that?

All public libraries should have a big sign on their doorway that says “Addictive Substances Inside, Please Use Caution. When Applied May Cause Thinking, Dreaming, Sudden Attacks of Knowledge, Immunity against Official Blandishments and Impatience with Common Fools.” 

Or maybe just “Contents Of This Building Will Cure All Summer Doldrums.” 

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