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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch

School is starting again. Methinks the summers are shorter, but the forecast tells me otherwise. Camps end. Lessons begin. Traffic increases.

As I wrote before, this was the first summer in which I experienced the promise of summer, of adventure. Through Scout’s eyes, Harper Lee tells us, “Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.” Summer is this abstract thing, this idea of a season. Here, it consists of barbeques, late evenings, local festivals, Hughson’s/Modesto’s/Turlock’s Farmer’s Markets, flowers from Kelley Flower Farm, and the County Fair. In this abstract thing is relaxation and exploration, camping and lake visits, quitting music lessons for Disneyland, and holidays at Knight’s Ferry.

But most of all, our summer seasons are something real, not abstract. What is the thing you had this summer that could not be had any other summer by any other person? It is the memory you take away with you. The treasure you will keep. Summer brought to Scout a boy named Dill and the adventures they had with him. The real thing you have in summer does not need to be because of summer. It may only be coincidence. It becomes the memory you can take with you into next summer. It is how memories are made and how traditions build into the abstract idea making it fuller, richer, stretching its shadow into the end of spring next year, plumping the time up with anticipation of the real thing again.

The real thing feeds the abstract thing. The abstract thing is passed down, just as each kid reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Southern summers are different than California summers, which are different than Midwestern summers. Public school summers are different than homeschool summers, which are different than full-time working summer. Still, the abstract thing is passed along. We feel the spirit of summer.

This may be why I felt this was my first summer. Attending year-round public school with nose-to-the-grindstone-parents, our vacations took place only on school and civic holidays, spending holy days at St. Anthony’s and the rest of vacation with family, hours away. Magazines, Pinterest, and endless questions of “do you have any plans this summer?” filled me with the idea of summer. Having a 6-year-old made it real. This summer art workshops became my “Dill”: The Real Thing.

Is fall any different? There is the idea of fall: pumpkin patches, changing leaves, hot apple cider, and Granny Smith apples for sale on Tully road. With two parents from the West coast, I learned the idea of fall while attending college in Minnesota. There, the idea of fall is strong. There, the idea of every season is strong.

As school begins and summer ends, I anticipate autumn. St. Anthony’s Parish Festival is marked on my calendar for September 30-October 1. The Four Friends Market will have a Holiday Special Market, October 7 at Dutch Hollow Farms. Does anything in this area illustrate the idea of fall better than Dutch Hollow Farms and The Fruit Barn?

The memory of breathing easily after recovering from bronchitis, riding in the backseat of a friend’s car, down the fiery-leaf-flanked Ford Parkway to Surdyk’s Liquor and Cheese Shop in Minneapolis not only taught me of the spell Minnesota casts on its residents with the beauty of fall. It became the heart of my abstract idea of fall. Thus I seek ways with each annual inauguration to make it real.

I could let it all pass. How easy it would be to be logical: it is just as hot as summer, or perhaps ten degrees cooler; most trees here do not have leaves that change color; a brief hot fall only precedes a soggy, foggy winter, if we are lucky. Or I could open the windows at night, purchase a warty pumpkin from Cipponeri’s, stock up on Spiced Apple Cider from Trader Joe’s and plan Halloween costumes with my kids. I think I will pick the latter. What will you hold onto at the end of summer to carry you into next year? What will your Real Thing be?