Student essays on summer vacations won’t be the same

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

It’s already August, and for many families whose lives revolve around extracurricular school activities, summer is already over.

Do you feel like you even had a summer? It’s been something of a blur.

Some of us were still able to enjoy some travel this summer, but it wasn’t quite the same. At least, that’s my guess based on the one abbreviated outing our family took to West Texas. Because of concerns about the virus, each decision on the road was made with caution. Perhaps that happens now regardless, but you face a number of new variables when you’re away from home base.

One of the first assignments my teachers would often hand out back in the “good old days” when I was in school was a short essay on “What I did on my summer vacation.” Most years, my essay involved our family’s regularly scheduled two weeks at the beach (in even years) or regularly scheduled two weeks in the mountains (in odd years). Dad liked the beach, and Mom liked the mountains, so our family alternated going to the beach and the mountains. If liked both. However, if forced to choose, make mine mountains.

One year, I got to write about visiting New York City. But otherwise, it was either the beach or mountains. Many students won’t have that much to relate this year — certainly not a trip to tourist destinations. Maybe next year.

Whether you managed to navigate the hurdles and restrictions and take a trip or not, the window for summer vacations has all but closed for another year, especially if your schedule must work around the academic calendar.

That also means the memories we might have made during our summer travels, along with the photos we always take in the process, are placed on hold along with our cargo shorts, flip-flops, coolers, and picnic baskets.

While awaiting the next opportunity to present itself, I’ve been looking through photos from previous vacations. They are all right here, languishing on my cell phone, and stored in a folder on the home computer’s desktop.

Years ago, when film was needed to take photos, capturing the perfect image could be costly. But with digital cameras, you can take as many pictures as you want. Later, you delete your dozens of misfires after identifying the best of the batch.

Visionary photographer Chase Jarvis of Seattle is credited with coining the phrase “the best camera is the one that’s with you,” and people around the world have embraced that concept. With digital cameras now the dominant feature of smartphones — which we almost always have with us — photography has exploded. It’s been estimated that cell phones will be used for 85 percent of the 1.4 trillion digital photos taken worldwide this year.

That prediction was made in January before COVID-19 threw a wrench into so many people’s travel plans. It might be impossible to calculate how many photos will have to be deducted from that total because of cancelled vacations.

Meanwhile, perhaps we can relive past trips. As I scroll through the collection, each photo reminds me of a special moment in time.

It’s not only digital images. We also have actual photographs from years ago, each commercially printed from negatives and stored in boxes in the hall closet. My sister and I are also sorting through photos from our parents’ collection. Just last month, my wife received a stack from one of her relatives.

Looking at photos on a computer screen is nice, but for me there’s something special about holding a printed photograph. Call me a dinosaur, but I’ve much the same preference for reading a newspaper. Viewing things on a screen, even a screen as large as the one on a desk computer, isn’t the same as holding the printed version in your hands.

This summer, I’ve been thinking about having prints made from a select few digital photos. If asked to write an essay about what I did this summer, that might be it.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at