A common assignment for pupils going back to school is to write essays on how they spent their summer vacations. The Augusta Chronicle posed a similar question to readers. We asked them to send us essays about their most memorable summer.
We received stories about spur-of-the-moment road trips, first loves and being of service to others. Prizes of $25 were awarded to three adults and one child. Today we present their essays and other top entries in our contest.
Terri Duncan, Evans
Our vacations seldom included reservations or itineraries. If Daddy had time off and a few dollars, we went. The summer I was 9 was no exception. I walked outside one muggy afternoon and saw Daddy working on the truck.
"Watcha doin'?" I asked.
"Just checkin' her over," he answered.
My heart pounded. That meant one thing - a trip! "Where are we goin'?" I asked excitedly.
"I reckon' we'll head to the mountains."
"Yippee!" I squealed, racing in the house to spread the news. The excitement was contagious. My sister and I crawled through the camper top, lined the truck bed in sleeping bags and arranged beanbag chairs while Momma packed. It seemed tomorrow would never come.
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, with the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the air, Momma gently shook us. We groggily dressed, climbed in the truck and snuggled in our beanbag chairs, soon falling asleep again. I dreamed of souvenirs - Indian dolls with fringed dresses and tiny papooses, bright beaded necklaces, furry stuffed bears with shiny red collars. By the time my sister and I awoke, we were in the foothills.
For hours, we meandered along curvy roads, seeing who could slide the farthest or sing loudest. We splashed in icy streams trying to catch elusive trout with our bare hands. Our eyes were constantly peeled for glimpses of wildlife. Finally, we arrived in Gatlinburg. We ambled along the crowded sidewalks, peering into shop windows, watching taffy being pulled in one, a man whittling in another. We shopped in stores laden with Great Smoky Mountain memorabilia. My siblings and I knew the rule - we could each get one special thing. They made their selections, but I continued to search.
At last, I spotted that which I coveted. On a shelf were genuine Indian moccasins - authentic ones made by a real Cherokee Indian. They were brown suede with fringe and leather laces. My toes tingled in anticipation.
"Daddy," I called breathlessly, pointing at the moccasins. "I found what I want!"
Daddy glanced at the price and put that box back on the shelf. "Pick out something else, Sugar. Those are too expensive," he remarked, walking away.
Fine, I thought haughtily. I'll ask Momma. She too, looked at the price and told me to make another choice. But I didn't want anything else. I had my heart set on genuine Indian moccasins. That was the beginning of the end of our vacation because I pitched a genuine fit. I made sure that everybody in Gatlinburg knew I wanted those moccasins but was being deprived of them.
It was a good thing that we didn't have reservations or itineraries because my parents marched back to the truck and we came home. My entire family was justifiably angry with me. I had ruined our outing.
In time, we were able to laugh at "Terri's Terrible Tantrum." My parents even bought me a pair of Indian moccasins. And I was indeed fleet-footed in those magical shoes.
Mrs. Duncan is a third-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary School in Columbia County.
Jennifer Smith, Evans
It started as the most miserable summer. Every June day we had school was perfect, with a cool, clean breeze and great sunshine for laying out. When the last day of school finally arrived, so did the rain. It rained for the rest of the month! I was 13 and couldn't tolerate my younger sisters for 10 minutes, nevermind endless days indoors. But it got worse. July came with blazing heat and a death in the family. Mom bought us all plane tickets and called us in for the big announcement.
"Pack your bags, we're going to Disneyland!"
My sisters and I stood in bewilderment. Apparently, the deceased lived in California, and Mom planned to make a vacation of it. "If we have to go," she said, "we might as well have some fun."
My very first plane flight was into Los Angeles. From there we drove south and visited all the sights we could think of: Palm Springs, Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, the Pacific Beach, the border of Mexico. We rode the sky lift and even saw roadrunners in the desert.
In August, Mom caught the travel bug again, so we drove north to New York, where we saw Niagara Falls and spent a day in Canada.
Traveling home, we visited some friends. I didn't want to go, certain that the family's younger kids would be annoying. We drove up to their house, and I had a quick change of heart (because it was beating so wildly.) There, on the porch, stood the cutest guy I'd ever seen. The family's "young" son wasn't so young anymore.
We hit it off instantly and spent every spare minute together, walking by the creek, playing basketball, gazing at the stars and sitting on the porch in the evening, alone. I would have gotten my first kiss if my little sister hadn't interrupted us just before that magical moment.
Our last day together was spent on the lake, fishing off a yacht. Of course the rest of our families were there, but I didn't notice. At the end of the day, we drove back to the pier as the sun set on the lake. Storybook romances aren't this perfect.
I saw so many beautiful things that summer and had a cache of stories to tell when I returned to school, but I saved only the souvenir of my first romance, a flower he gave me at our bittersweet parting. It may have started miserably, but it ended memorably!
Mrs. Smith is a free-lance writer who is studying children's literature.
Mickey Bentley, Augusta
The most memorable summer for me was this summer. I spent the majority of the summer working with young people from Southside Baptist Church. The middle school youth I teach in Sunday school with Paul Cluttz did mission projects all summer. These projects were done on a volunteer basis. We worked at a food bank with a group of seniors who are outstanding folks with hearts of gold, dug up weeds from many flower boxes and lots of ants, did a traveling car wash (13 altogether), cut grass with a lot of misquitos and were allowed to come in and clean Crisis Pregnancy Center on Broad Street.
We averaged about eight students on each mission trip. Don't get me wrong. We did other things for ourselves, too. We went swimming, ate lunch, had ice cream, went to the park, had doughnuts and got better acquainted with one another. We developed closer friendships and did some growing up, too!
We will be leaving for our final get-together Thursday morning. We are going to Six Flags and have a "Lock In" at the church. The lesson I wanted these children to learn was that in this world of give and take, it is truly better to give, or do in this case, than to receive.
We didn't take any pictures because I wanted the memory to be in their hearts, not on paper.
These students worked hard and never bragged or wanted any recognition for their good deeds. The young people are our future, and it blessed my heart to see how eager and willing they were to go and do for others inside our church and in our community. Please enter my essay in the contest. This is my way of thanking them again for the wonderful job they did this summer. And I also wanted to thank those who let us serve them.
Mrs. Bentley is a teaching assistant at Glenn Hills Elementary School. She is married to Greg Bentley, pastor of Southside Baptist Church.
Curtiss Curry, 7, Appling
I went to Cartoon Network Six Flags Atlanta. I got into a roller coaster. It was fun and scary. It wasn't fun like last summer in California, when I went to the water park with my cousins.
Curtiss is a second-grader at North Columbia Elementary School. He is the son of Curtiss and Regina Curry of Appling. He composed and wrote the essay himself. His mom said she helped a little on spelling.
Tavias Bennett, 14, Augusta
This summer has been so fun. I worked two volunteer jobs for about seven weeks. I was in the VA Student Volunteer Program. My title was patient transport. I helped patients get to their appointments on time. I enjoyed helping veterans and making their lives easier. I worked two days a week and amassed 76 hours.
Also, I worked at Camp Horizon, a camp for the mentally and physically disabled. We took the kids on field trips. I was a volunteer and helped the kids any way I could. This also was a good opportunity to expand my base of knowledge. I worked three days a week and amassed 90 hours.
Volunteering is a thing I enjoyed this year, and I think everybody should do it. It looks good on a job resume and in life.
Darcie Gore, 23, Hephzibah
When I recall my most meaningful summer, memories, both bitter and sweet, flood my mind. It wasn't all that long ago, but it seems like forever. Although I didn't realize it then, it was the last carefree summer I'd ever have. I was still a child, only 14, but that summer I grew up. I experienced love and loss as I never had before.
My cousin Jaime and I grew up together. As babies, we shared the same toys. As we got a little older, we shared secrets. And that summer, we shared loss, joy and fear. The experiences we shared back then bonded us for life.
In June, our grandmother passed away. It was the first loss either of us had ever experienced, and we didn't know how to handle our grief. But that summer we leaned on each other to get through it.
Together, we wrote a poem for the funeral. Jaime's words and mine combined perfectly, like pieces of a puzzle, to express our grief. As I stood in front of family and friends reading it aloud, Jaime was right by my side, giving me strength by squeezing my hand and keeping me from breaking down.
As the summer went on, our time together grew thin. That was our last summer together, and we both knew it. Jaime had earned a full scholarship and would be leaving for college in the fall. We knew we had to make it a summer to remember!
She drove this old, pea-green, boatlike car. It was ugly as could be. One afternoon, we decided to play up its ugliness by transforming it into "The Fruit Mobile." We bought tempera paints and painted watermelons, oranges and bananas all over the car. And for the piece de resistance, we decorated the antenna with plastic grapes. Then, we took it for a spin through town. People honked at us and waved. We thought it was hilarious.
We spent many nights at the beach, roasting marshmallows over bonfires with friends. We visited our grandmother's grave and talked about our memories of her. At the time, it felt like an endless summer, but it was quickly coming to an end.
In August, at Jaime's going-away party, I dedicated a song to her. It was called "Letting Go" by Suzy Bogus. I spent the night with her that night. The next morning, she drove me home before heading up North to school. We hugged, and cried, but didn't say a word. I was devastated to be losing my best friend. I can't say what she was feeling, but I imagine she must have been scared to go out into the "grown-up" world for the first time.
That summer changed us both. I look back on what we went through, and it seems less traumatic now, but only because I'm older and I lived through it. No matter what, though, I'll always remember that summer as a turning point in my life, and, the best summer ever!
Linda Beckworth, Wadley, Ga.
It was the summer of 1952 that taught me an important life lesson. I was 7 years old. My sister and I had a new stepfather in our lives, named Dr. Paul Moyer.
Our family moved into a lovely house on the beach in Marathon, Fla. He would only be in our life for one year because of a fatal stroke that he suffered during a house call.
For that one year we were rich and had everything we desired. After his death, we were devastated. I've had many years to contemplate our loss. Strangely enough, I can barely remember the luxury that we were surrounded by. But for one beautiful summer I had a daddy who loved me. The images that come to mind are the day he brought us our first tiny puppy, giving us our first vaccinations and making us laugh. Saying " Goody-goody gum drops" to make us laugh. And walking along the beach, holding his hand and feeling safe.
I will always love and miss that wonderful man, who taught me that the only things that matter in life are love and kindness.
Martha L. Barnes, Hephzibah
It was July 1962. My aunt Martha (I'm named after her), single and adventurous, had planned a two-week cross-country road trip. Our destination: every child's dream - the newly opened Disneyland!
My aunt, my grandmother and I set off from Chattanooga, Tenn., in my aunt's (non-air-conditioned) 1957 yellow and black Chevrolet Bel Air. We were to visit relatives in Minneapolis, then head for the Pacific coast, taking in as many sights as possible along the way.
I had just completed second grade and was slap full of questions and excitement. Two highlights of our journey that I remember vividly were the bears in Yellowstone and the presidents carved on Mount Rushmore. I waited rather impatiently on a bench for Old Faithful to spew forth and later stood on the Continental Divide glimpsing snow in the distance. I demanded we stay only at motels equipped with swimming pools. (We once drove hours into the night trying to find one!)
I played a slot machine in Reno, rode through the Black Hills, across deserts and saw the giant redwoods in California (not in that order!).
I floated in the Great Salt Lake, bought a turquoise ring from a real American Indian and listened to a dozen history lessons on the Old West!
Those hills in San Francisco were scary; the Golden Gate Bridge was awesome; the weather changed frequently; and Disneyland was everything and more than I'd dreamed of! (I can still see my tiny Grandma whizzing by on the Matterhorn!)
What a trip! Being able to experience the United States of America firsthand, with no car trouble, no worries of three females traveling alone, and no doubt that I'd never, ever forget the experience was great!
My aunt (in her 70s now and living in Thomson) took dozens of pictures and preserved them in photo albums. We still joke about the motel swimming pools. (I developed tonsillitis from one, causing us to cut the trip a couple of days short.)
When I called my aunt and told her I was thinking of writing about the trip, she dug out those old photo albums. For a while, I was back in that '57 two-toned Chevy, reliving my most memorable summer vacation!