Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

August 1, 2013

ED VASICEK: Kids and summer joy

Include the joy of family in vacation plans

Kokomo Tribune

---- — As I was perus-ing the Koko-mo Tribune, I noticed an article about the Indiana State Fair conflicting with the start of the ever-encroaching school year.

Educators have noticed that the longer summer vacations equate to less retention of what had been learned previously. Thus they have sought to displace some of the lazy, hazy days of summer with school breaks spread throughout the year.

Whatever the season, life is richer for kids when they enjoy a variety of activities — particularly if they are blessed with a positive family environment. Let me share some of my summer experiences growing up in Cicero, Ill., as a case in point.

Some summer events were staples. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood, played softball in the alleys, participated in park district activities and enjoyed summer festivals. The local Italian Club held a street festival, complete with a version of bingo called “tombola.”

The club sold tombola cards for $1 each, and whoever filled the entire card won the prize (it was several hundred dollars). The loudspeaker would broadcast the numbers for at least a couple of blocks in all directions, and winners (assisted by their families) would whoop and holler from their porches.

A live band played as folks danced on the streets. Italian beef, Italian sausage, meatball sandwiches and pizza were omnipresent.

The Slovaks had fun, too. Our family would make a trip with Grampa every year to East Troy, Wis. My grandfather was a member of the board of trustees for Sokol Camp, a Slovak gymnastic associations. Although we had no interest in gymnastics, we would make the annual trip so my grandfather could attend the annual board meeting. We would enjoy the lake and grounds and join the campers for their noon meal.

We trekked to the forest preserve twice a year for picnics. One was sponsored by the Majewski Boosters’ picnic. This was a strange club indeed. Apparently Majewski had been a politician decades earlier and organized a “booster” club. The reason for the club had long been forgotten: Its only activity was an annual party/picnic.

The family picnic was my favorite. As a young lad, I remember playing dice games with my aunts, hiking in the woods, playing softball, and lots of good eats. We brought our charcoal grills, except for one uncle who was proud of his wood-burner. Once my Aunt Jo ran out of the outhouse in a frenzy; she had been attacked by a swarm of bees. Another year my accident-prone cousin fell into the Des Plaines River.

The family picnic included my mother’s side of the family (they were of Polish descent). One year, my Uncle Al told my dad “his people” (the Slovak club) was holding a picnic in the other pavilion. We moseyed on over and tried a pastry we had never heard of (and we ate a lot of Slovak food): cabbage strudel. It did not sound very appetizing. After we tasted it, we were surprised. It tasted even worse than we imagined!

Some years we would take week-long vacations, often to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, usually renting a cabin near Crystal Falls. Once we went to Chain O’ Lakes or Tomahawk, Wis. Even with school starting after Labor Day, summer was too short.

Kokomo summers bring their own memories: summer camps, fishing clinics, Park Band concerts, the Haynes Apperson Festival and a host of concerts, events, art- or drama-related activities and sporting events. Life is better when kids are allowed to be kids and families are a source of joy.

Ed Vasicek is pastor of Highland Park Church and a weekly contributor to the Kokomo Tribune. Contact him at edvasicek@comcast.net.