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The most wonderful time


September kicks off my absolute favorite season. Fall. We’ve had a rather mild summer in Arkansas, which was nice, but it’s still a joy for me to welcome the beginning of a new season. The evenings are growing slightly cooler, the days a bit shorter. My hummingbirds are draining the feeder, preparing for their long flight south. There’s something a little different about the way the shadows fall across the patio in the afternoons. It’s football season — and I am a huge football fan, especially SEC college ball (I was up until a ridiculous hour this morning watching the surprisingly exciting LSU/Washington game). I also watch NFL games when they’re on. My husband and I will head for the hills when the leaves start to turn, making day trips into the Ozarks and the charming Mountain View area. The “Bambi” I snapped above is probably not as enthusiastic about this season, but I do love watching wildlife on fall strolls on local hiking trails (I took this shot in Cade’s Cove near Gatlinburg, Tennessee).

One of my favorite television commercials shows a dad giddily riding a shopping cart through an office supplies store while “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” plays and his two children sulk through a back-to-school-shopping outing. As cute as it is, I can’t quite identify with those kids. I always liked going back to school, and I think my kids did too, despite the obligatory grumbling. I loved back-to-school shopping. New binders and folders and pencils and lunch boxes. I still remember a couple of back-to-school dresses my mother made for me when I was in elementary and junior high school.

We always did our back to school shopping at the Sterling Store. Mother worked in the Sterling Stores home office from the time she graduated high school in 1950, eventually serving as the president’s secretary, and was still employed by the family who owned those stores at the time of her death in 2007, 24 years after Sterling Stores went out of business. I loved going to the Sterling Store in Benton, Arkansas to pick out my school supplies while Mother visited with the long-time store manager, Mr. Hanvey.

Then it was time to shop for my own kids. And I found that I still loved helping them pick out new binders and folders and pencils and crayons and backpacks, carefully sorting and labeling everything the night before the first day of school. I discovered how expensive it could become, which made me appreciate even more the sacrifices my sometimes-struggling parents made so we could have the basic necessities. But even having to count pennies sometimes, I enjoyed the ritual. I still smile when I see the colorful displays of school supplies at WalMart, and I miss outfitting my kids for the new year. I asked my son several times during the last few weeks if he needed to go back-to-college shopping, but all he did was pick up one notebook and say, “That’s all I need.” “No markers or crayons or superhero folders?” I asked with a sigh. He merely patted my head — something he does a lot now that he’s 6’1″ (compared to my own almost 5’4″).

So, even though it’s still officially summer with quite a few hot days ahead, I look forward to those first nippy mornings, the first fire on the hearth, the first sign of color in the now-green leaves. And because it has to be said — Go, SEC! (With apologies to all my friends in other conferences).


Award-winning, best-selling author of women's romance fiction.

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