Oliver: Happy memories make summers last

If you listen carefully, you almost can hear the collective groan.

Thousands of students in McHenry County are returning to area classrooms in the coming days (if they haven’t already).

Listen even more carefully, and you just might hear the sounds of happy dances being performed by their parents. But I digress.

The end of summer isn’t easy on a kid’s psyche.

As much as I enjoyed returning to school and to learning, I always felt that pang of loss when my extended recess ended each August.

I was reminded of this recently as I was reminiscing with my sister about some of the summer vacations we shared.

She is 16 years older than I, so when my brother and I were old enough, our mother used to let us visit Chris and my brother-in-law, Mick, for a week each summer.

They lived in Millington, a tiny, blink-and-you’ve-missed it town in Kendall and LaSalle counties. In the 2000 census, the population was 458. 

The thrill wasn’t so much in being in the middle of nowhere. I lived amid cornfields on the outskirts of McHenry at the time, so I already was familiar with “nowhere.”

No, the excitement was in being in a different middle of nowhere, and away from my usual routine.

Sure, Chris and Mick once took us camping to White Pines State Park in Mount Morris. They took us downstate to visit one of Mick’s sisters. We even got to go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

But most of the time, the visits were more memorable for their low-key fun: splashing in kiddie pools with our niece and nephew, making the world’s best mustard potato salad and playing badminton in the backyard.

We’d hop in the car in the evening to go to Plano, where we’d visit a candy store or get some ice cream.

I’d get to stay in the guest bedroom, which was filled with books by authors ranging from J.R.R. Tolkien to Louis L’Amour. On one wall hung a framed jigsaw puzzle with a portion of Bilbo Baggins’ poem “The Road Goes Ever On” from “The Hobbit.”

For a geeky kid like me, it was one of the coolest places in the world.

No wonder I would get more than a little sad at the thought of going home.

Eventually though, the swirl of everyday life would soothe the sadness and then it would be time to go back to class. 

That would bring its own pangs of regret as the less-structured days of summer at home came to an end, too.

But then I’d eventually succumb to the excitement of another year of learning, seeing old friends and getting into a new routine.

Still, I cherish those happy summer memories.

Here’s hoping our county’s kids created some of their own.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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