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Column: Childhood summers took us far from home
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
June 13, 2012 05:51 PM | 1473 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy

When the school year ended, the daily tempo of life at our house on West Wesley Road increased significantly.

For me and my brothers, Alfred and Cameron, it marked not only the end of our time at Lovett for the year, but the winding down of the Buckhead Baseball season, trips to the Army/Navy store and Oshman’s Sporting Goods on Peachtree Road in Buckhead with our mother to get supplies for summer camps, and an overarching focus on the next big event in our lives — an extended summer vacation.

The schedule varied but it tended to go like this; school would end and we would have a few days to ourselves knocking around the house being completely bored. We would devise games to keep ourselves occupied. These were usually competitive, typically outdoors and always dangerous. Whether we were playing crash-up derby with our bicycles in the big turnaround, hurling crabapples at one another in the back yard with improvised slingshots or shooting bottle rockets off of the property and running from the potential implications, it was all we could do to keep our unattended selves amused.

After a few days, however, our mother, Mary, would pile us in the station wagon to get items from the long lists sent out by camps Carolina, Gwynn Valley or Mac. There was a great Army/Navy store out Roswell Road that, in addition to foot lockers, blankets, flashlights and rain ponchos, had glass cases full of throwing stars and wicked-looking knives, bayonets and swords. It was a display of impossible intrigue for three 9- to 14-year-old boys. We loomed over them rapt as our mother picked through the requisite disposable camp gear.

Camp sessions in North Carolina and Alabama for each of us typically lasted a few weeks. One of our parents (or our grandparents) would drive us into the wilderness, where we would be left in a large wooded compound in the mountains.

The summer vacations usually began directly following camp. We started out renting a cottage on St. Simons Island, then a small seaside house on Sea Island and then Nantucket, Mass. These were great destinations for kids who had the desire to explore and range free.

These trips were always put into context with learning and local activities. On St. Simons we would join groups crabbing from the pier, walk to town and enjoy out-of-the-way pla-ces that locals preferred. Sea Island was different because you were stuck on a self-contained island with no shops and only one hotel. We played at the beach, visited with other families, went to the Cloister pool and got dressed up to play bingo on Sunday nights.

By the time our parents decided to expand their range with Nantucket, we were a little older. They would just let us go once we got settled into the old house on Main Street. We would ride our bikes out to Surfside, fish from the town pier and spend days at the direction of our father, Alfred, in the town library pretending to learn the U.S. presidents and the English kings in order. At night he would sit with us in the large living room of the house, all of us spread out on the floor, and read “Moby Dick.”

I don’t know that the model of summer camp and then the four-week summer vacation helped much. While we were scheduled and no longer shooting bottle rockets at the neighbors, there was a tremendous feeling of removal from the lush back yard, the piercing sound of the evening cicadas and the familiar comfort of being in that old house.

Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and a former news editor of the Northside/Sandy Springs/Vinings Neighbor newspapers. He can be reached at

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