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Holiday feels like summer’s end

Fall arrived Monday. I know it still feels like summer and the leaves aren’t turning colors yet. True, the official start isn’t until the autumnal equinox on Sept. 23, but I go with the unofficial beginning, which happens on Labor Day.

When I was a kid, Labor Day brought the end of summer and the start of the school year. The Tuesday after the Monday holiday meant a full day of school in a new classroom. On the Friday before Labor Day, we usually visited the school and scanned pages posted on each door looking for our names, anxious to see if ours was the “mean” teacher or the nice one. We got a list of all the things we needed to bring with us when we returned the next week and then we headed home to enjoy one final weekend of freedom.

That first morning of the school year, the room always smelled of chalk, boxes of new crayons and clean children, scrubbed and often sporting new shoes.

I remember in elementary school looking out the big windows running along one side of the room, remembering how just the week before at this time of day I was outside in the sun running and playing – free.

Now I watched the pecan trees lining the playground as they swayed in a passing breeze and longed to be sitting beneath one lost in dreams. Just as I started to slip away to a summer place, the teacher’s voice brought me back to reality.

“Let’s get out our books,” the voice said.

Didn’t matter what book it was — reading, math, history, spelling – it was work; it was school for the next nine months.

It’s funny but the world looked different once the school bell rang again. Walking home after a long first day, the back yards that seemed green and inviting when we played on them a few days before now looked tired and empty. Even the sidewalks that were such fun to skate up and down last week had a different feel as a few brown leaves crunched under our feet as we walked.

I think about those childhood days at this time every year. Now the memories hold a sweetness, a dreamlike quality. The familiar sound of leaves crackling under my feet makes me smile, remembering those sidewalks and that long walk home.

A lot of autumns came and went since elementary school, but etched into my brain like initials carved into the bathroom door in that long-ago school building is the fragrance of Elmer’s glue and the crisp feel of bright-colored construction paper.

Maybe those echoes of the past cause it, but the world still takes on a different look to me as soon as Labor Day passes. My flower beds, the lawn, the big oak trees all seem worn out, longing for a rest. And just like I did when I was a kid marching home from school, I fall into step with the changes taking place in the natural world.

Yes, I know school starts in August now and even though Labor Day is over, the world still waits for the official beginning of the season, for that first wonderful snap of cool air. But at my house, fall is here and I’m pulling out my best harvest wreath and my ceramic pumpkins. The spicy apple-cinnamon candles burn in my kitchen and my soul celebrates the arrival of autumn — even if I am little ahead of schedule.