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The End of Summer and the Call of Reality

by on August 23, 2018 5:00 AM

This week the pulse of Happy Valley returned with a very early start to the fall semester at Penn State. While some of us want to hold fast to the last weeks of summer, society’s imposition of its own time has already turned the page to fall. In grocery stores and supercenters Halloween displays and pumpkin spice products have been on the shelves for weeks.

But even with four weeks of summer left on the calendar, Mother Nature is hinting of the autumn to come. In the early morning walks along Spring Creek, Thompson Run or Slab Cabin Run the signs of change are there.

Daylight is already noticeably shorter than just six weeks ago. Goldenrod and late summer flowers have bloomed in forests, meadows and marshes. Most years, the creeks and streams are lower after August’s dry days (obviously 2018 is an exception). Already leaves have fallen on the boardwalk in Millbrook Marsh and on paths along Spring Creek Canyon.

The time of growth in spring and early summer has given way to harvest. Corn has been in local farmers’ markets for weeks. The tomato patches in countless yards are yielding their sweet fruit. Kitchens around the county are busy grinding out tomato sauce, or pickling cucumbers or sauerkraut extending the local produce’s shelf life well into winter and beyond.

Our young adults are headed off to college and our younger kids are going back to school. Regimented school day schedules replace summer’s carefree rhythms, when children were swimming, biking and playing almost at will.

After Labor Day the crowded pools close. The May days when the pools’ openings were so eagerly anticipated seem like a distant memory. Silent state park beaches look like the deserted beach where Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Big” finds the last Zoltar Fortune Teller machine. That character hoped Zoltar would reverse his previous wish to be “big” and return him to childhood’s carefree days, the summer of his life.

If only it could be so... but autumn and the approaching school year are time’s stark call to reality.

When you become a parent, the first day of school marks another step in time’s passage on the parallel tracks of our lives and the lives of our children. It marks it in a way that is bittersweet. The first day of school may be a moment of possibility, but it’s also another step further from childhood and its innocence and wonder.

But it is even more for us as parents. It’s an annual lesson that life’s youth, life’s summer cannot last forever. The lengthening days that ascended with the spring and into the summer are drawing to a close for another year.

Summer does not yield immediately, as sunny days will reappear into late September and October that will excite us. Like that one girlfriend you know is out the door, summer’s final brief flirtations won’t last forever. We know what is coming.

Our lives are no different. After the birth of children we watch them grow across days that seem like they will never end. Yet while the days may drag the years fly by. As the school bus pulls up on Monday and the children run toward the new school year, hold those moments. They are precious and they pass all too quickly.

There is an image in my mind from years ago of a daughter rushing excitedly to get on the bus. For a moment she turned back towards us, smiled and waved. I still see the face of another daughter standing and waving inside the screen door as I drove away to work. Still fresh is a memory from a son’s soccer game. As he ran down the sideline he smiled as the late afternoon sunshine of an autumn day cast its glow on his face.

When the door shuts and the bus pulls away on Monday, another life milestone passes. Even still, we often find it hard to be in the moment. We find it hard to savor what is happening and focus more on capturing the moment with our soul more so than capturing an image with our phones.

But as time marches from summer to fall, as children grow older, it takes us one step closer to realizing the words of writer Joseph Conrad:  “I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more - the feeling that I could last forever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men.”

With the realization that youth and life is finite, we must collect and hold these moments. While they may pass here in time, if we are present in the here and now, our memories find a permanent home etched into our hearts. There our souls can reflect on an endless summer along the path of life. There we can reflect on what has been and imagine what will be.



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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