What says 'the end of summer' to you? When I was a child, summer's end came when my mother took me shopping for a new pencil box (yes, I know I'm revealing how old I am) and a new pair of school shoes. There was also the ritual trying on of the school clothes, to see what could last another year, what needed the hem let down, and what would have to be replaced. My mother was both thrifty and a good seamtress, so nothing was discarded if it could possibly be made to last.
School shopping had changed by the time my children were in school. Then it was the hunt for the clothes that were 'in' and also acceptable to my standards. But that shopping was still the marker for summer's end, and although the kids grumbled about school starting too soon, I knew they were secretly ready to get back into the normal routine.
Now I don't have kids at home, and while I love getting a back-to-school gift for each of my grandkids, it's not quite the same landmark. I watch the yellow school bus go by our house without stopping and start up the hill toward the elementary school with a slight pang.
At this stage of my life, summer's end has come to be marked more by the state of the garden. When I start canning spaghetti sauce, giving away eggplant, and roasting green peppers, I know that no matter how warm it still is, fall is approaching inevitably. The sumacs along the roadside hold their flame-colored plumes high, and in the cornfields the stalks are high enough for a child or adult to get lost in. Mist hugs the valley when I walk out to the mailbox in the morning, and the first few falling leaves skitter across the road.
Don't get me wrong--I love fall. It might be my favorite season, especially here in our Pennsylvania valley, where the ridges will be lit by color in another month. But there's something a bit melancholy about fall, as well. Maybe that's a hangover from childhood, when it seemed the beginning of school meant an end to freedom. Or maybe it's just the reminder of another year slipping past, something that occurs more quickly as one gets older.
An elderly friend told me once, as she approached the end of her battle with illness, that she'd been thinking a lot of what Heaven would be like when she arrived. Her conclusion was that it would be like the hills in autumn, with every growing thing announcing its transition to another phase of life in a final blast of triumphant color.
Happy fall, everyone. Enjoy it.