Climbing a grapevine, Mac tries to go up hand over hand. He tried even harder when Pres laughed.
Caption from LIFE. Climbing a grapevine, Mac tries to go up hand over hand. He tried even harder when Pres laughed.Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Climbing a grapevine, Mac tries to go up hand over hand. He tried even harder when Pres laughed.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
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Pres watches as Mac fishes for bass in Buffalo Creek.
On a fisherman's houseboat in dead slough, the boys go jugging for catfish. They tie their fishing lines to jugs and haul them in when the jug bobs in the water. That day not a fish bit.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Mac swings down the hayloft of one of his father's barns. His father, a retired lawyer, owns seven farms, "five good ones, and two hick ones."
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
On a farm owned by Mac's father the two boys ride an amiable horse while farmer's children watch. Pres, a less experienced rider, had to sit behind and hang onto mac. Afterward they curried Lady for almost an hour.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Chores are to be avoided, especially hanging up clothes. When Pres was caught, Mac nobly helped out. Pres kept reminding his mother he could not hang shirts properly but she said he wasn't going to get away with that excuse.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Frog gigging in the pond behind his house, Pres carries a spear and flashlight. "Hey, Mac, there's one," he yells. But when he caught it, it turned out to be a crawfish.
Pres and Mac on their summer vacation.
Caption from LIFE. Climbing a grapevine, Mac tries to go up hand over hand. He tried even harder when Pres laughed.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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What I Did on My Summer Vacation, 1947

Sep 02, 2015

Few schoolchildren make it through a dozen years of schooling without being assigned some variation of the “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay. During the summer of 1947, the editors of LIFE Magazine decided to help two boys prepare to write their essays by dispatching Alfred Eisenstaedt to Louisiana, Mo., to illustrate their summer pastimes with his camera.

Pres and Mac, as the 12-year-old childhood friends were nicknamed, lived 75 miles up the Mississippi River from St. Louis, and they spent much of their time in swimming holes and haylofts. Aside from Pres’ paper route and the boys’ chores, each day was rife with possibility, with ample resources from which to make their own fun: the hay bales on Mac’s father’s farm, the grapevines strong enough to climb, the catfish ripe for catching.

With researchers today warning of the summer learning loss and some education experts advocating for year-round schooling, many parents who can afford to are enrolling their kids in brain-stimulating summer programs rather than allowing them to roam free like Pres and Mac did. What is lost in limiting unstructured play is up for debate—but, as some psycholigists argue, what’s at stake may be more than just material for that back-to-school essay.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

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