Gimme a Break!

Humorist Philip Gulley covers the disturbing evolution of what used to be a simple spring holiday.

Illustration of luggage and canoe piled on top of station wagon

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Illustration of luggage and canoe piled on top of station wagon

Iwas thinking the other day of everything that’s changed since I was a kid. Some people don’t like change, but I’m not one of them. To believe something shouldn’t change is to say it can’t be improved, and I don’t know anything that can’t be made better with creativity and work. Of course, with every rule there is an exception, and the exception to this one is spring break. Spring breaks have changed a lot since I was a kid, and not for the better.

When I was growing up, schools held their spring break on Holy Week, culminating in Easter. Sometimes this was in March, and sometimes in April, on the first Sunday after the first paschal full moon following the spring equinox. Don’t ask me what a paschal full moon is, just take my word that Easter doesn’t happen until it does.

In those days, spring break provided the interlude between cold weather and warm. We would carry our sleds down to the basement and carry up our bicycles; remove the storm windows and store them in the barn; rake the winter debris from underneath the bushes; bring down the box fans from the attic; tune the mower; then haul the swing from the barn to the front porch. It was a working vacation, but still beat school all to pieces.

Today, families from Indiana, my home state, take their kids to Florida, but Florida wasn’t even invented when I was little, so we stayed home and worked. Our respite came on Good Friday, when my mother would bundle us in the car and drive us to Beecham’s on the town square to buy a suit for my brother Glenn who was six inches taller than the rest of us and got a new suit every Easter while we, his hapless brothers, wore his suits from Easters past. Four pencil-thin boys in dark-gray suits, our hair slicked down with Vitalis, looking like a gospel quartet, like the Dixie Hummingbirds, except for being white and from the north. On Saturday evening we dyed Easter eggs, then went to Hook’s Drugs five minutes before it closed to buy marked-down chocolate Easter bunnies, jelly beans, and plastic grass. We would stop at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on the way home for our weekly confession, enter the confessional to shout out our sins to Father McLaughlin, who was deaf as a rock, then drive to Burger Chef for a fish sandwich.

The point of spring break is to relax. But when relaxation is a goal, it becomes a task, a grim obligation, like a prostate exam.

The spring-break-in-Florida craze was just taking hold when I was in high school, when the Piersons, who lit their cigars with $20 bills, flew — yes, got on an airplane and flew! — to Florida where they sat on the beach an entire week, then returned to Indiana darker than chocolate Easter bunnies. Now the Florida trend includes everyone but the Amish, who sensibly stay home while the other parents pile in their cars on Friday after school and drive through the night to Panama City, where they arrive the next morning, exhausted, crabby, and hating their children. They do this for those same children, who, if they don’t go to Florida, whine about being the only children left in town, bored stiff, friendless, ridiculed for being poor and having stupid parents.

When I was a kid, parents didn’t care what their children thought of them, so children had no leverage and had to do what their parents said. Then self-esteem was invented in the 1980s, the balance of power shifted, and parents had to keep their children happy and let them do whatever they wanted. Father McLaughlin would fall over dead if he were hearing confessions today.

The problem with spring break today is that it’s planned to the nth degree. It now has a point, to relax. But when relaxation is a goal it becomes a task, a grim obligation,like a prostate exam. Hence the white-knuckled drive to Florida, the insistence on fun, the making every moment count, the reckless spending, then returning home exhausted. Getting exhausted at home didn’t seem nearly as tiring, and I would return to school, my mind renewed, crossing off the days until summer and my emancipation.

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  1. Every time I read your articles you give me hope for this crazy world. I always think that if you can hit the nail on the head, there are still some of you out there who think like me. By the way how about a book with a collection of your articles, just a thought.

    The lady whose grandmother lived in what is now the pink house in Roachdale. Thanks Phil!

  2. Well, we are in Hawaii right now, but it has nothing to do with spring break. We managed to get reservations for now, for 3 weeks, 2 on Oahu and 1 on Kauai, where we are now. It is also a walk on memory lane for my sister and myself (my husband is just along for the ride) since we lived here as children in the 50’s. We even had some outings with our childhood friends who still live in Honolulu and Kaneohe. This is coming to an end, but I would not have missed it for the world. So I have to brag about it a little.

  3. So true…we are grandparents raising our granddaughter and I think she thinks we are lying when we told her we used to just enjoy being at home and hanging out with family! She is the only kid left in our hometown of Fort Wayne…all of her friends are gone! It’s insane!


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