Ah, the good old days...

It started when I was just a kid. The first real sign that summer was ending. This was long before they started hanging the “back to school” banners in stores on the 5 th of July like they do now. I’d be biking through the center of town and a big truck would rumble by carrying sparkly pieces of Ferris wheels and carousels. It meant the county fair was being set up and the fair meant the last days of summer vacation were upon us. For me it was a bittersweet time. I cherished my free-wheeling summers, but I had a special affection for fall. It held and will always hold the fondest memories of my childhood and early adulthood.

The onset of autumn ushered in the ceremony of returning to school with a side order of anticipation. Face it, in your adult life you rarely encounter an annual opportunity to hit the giant “Reset” button.  Returning to school meant new faces, new relationships with old, familiar faces, laughing about everything and usually worrying about nothing. Except for some scholastic challenges here and there the work was tolerable and not overwhelming. And sure there were the heartaches akin to growing up; the girl we crushed on that didn’t return our affection, the friends that ganged up now and then and made us feel less popular than others--it wasn’t all perfect. But the school year was like a microcosm of life and you got 12 fresh starts to test out what you learned and improved upon each summer.

So, now, here it is again in present day. The fair is in town, the back-to-school sale commandments are in every window, and football players are everywhere; 10-year-olds pedaling their bikes to practice in full pads, gangs of boys holding their helmets as they tank Gatorade outside the convenient store on the way home from high school practice, and the Cleveland Browns orange and brown blending in so well with the Halloween colors and the falling leaves.  There’s that cool bite in the air and on quiet evenings, you can hear marching bands echo through the valley as they practice for the holiest of all fall nights; FRIDAY!

Football players, band members, observers, parents, referees, cheerleaders, concessionaires--I defy any one of them to tell me they DON’T have a sense-awakening memory about how the walk into the stadium on a Friday night felt, smelled, tasted, sounded and appeared. It was the driving reason high school reunions are cherished and the epitome of the photo that appears in your mind when you think about “the good old days.”

I got my first real kiss on a Friday night at the high school stadium. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The drums pounding cadences as the band took the half time field, the smell of popcorn and watered-down coffee and cocoa and the faint aroma of her perfume smothered by layers of mufflers, coats and gloves holding off that Cleveland cold. She held my hand through the whole second half and I thought I’d never been that happy in my life. As I walked her to the door that night, I gave her my high school jacket to wear and indeed she wore it every day from that night forth. Sort of a high school engagement ring equivalent, I guess. A rite of passage, if you will.

It was a time of discovery, defining oneself and making mistakes. A few of the gang got it right even at that tender age and set their sight on a life partner back then. I am proud to report that the couple couples I keep in touch with, that started in high school, are still going strong. That infectious, intoxicating fall romance is still alive in their lives and part of what they store in their marital memories.

And now as a sort of final bow to this favorite memory of mine, my youngest son enters his senior year, class of 2015. He plays rugby, plays woodwind instruments in the band, stocks shelves at the local drug store after school and belongs to a youth group at the church.  He’s not formalized any designated girl “friends” as his “girlfriend” but the more I see him out with his gang, I can tell that step is soon to follow. I can only tell you it fills my heart to see him enjoying these things that I once loved so much and fondly reflect upon.

Because see attached to all this is this little bit of remaining innocence which I also had. It was the stuff that made me value my parents and family and not want to disappoint them. It drove me to respect the girl I was dating and to make sure her parents thought highly of me too. It drove me to seek accomplishments and be involved and in charge of things at school. It made me work a part time job so I had a little money in my pocket and wasn’t always asking for hand-outs from my parents. That kind of pride, respect, heart and dedication went on to get me through college and employment and make a home, fill it with family and make them all proud of me.

So last week when we picked Sam’s letterman’s jacket from the sporting goods store I got a little misty. I choked up for my innocence, for his future, for the memories and mostly because if he winds up giving that jacket to some girl I’ll kill him! That thing cost a fortune!

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com .