A day unstinted

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Last week I saw the schoolchildren hurrying to catch the big yellow bus at the corner. There was a medley of shouts, giggles, and whistles. No wonder, for this was the first day of the school year.

Immediately the memory of a particular day in which my small son and I made merry came to me like a golden haze glittering with emotion. For in those days, whenever the first fall breeze touched my cheeks I went scurrying for my hiking sweater with holes in the elbows. On this day, or one soon to come, our special treat would be acted out.

As I continued my reverie, I saw again a little fair-haired boy quivering with excitement, I, a young woman, clasping his hand as we skipped out into the unordinary morning.

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This was his day. We called it the ''Day Before School Starts Day.''

On this honor day I agreed to take him anywhere he wanted to go, to play any games he wished to play, to prepare the exact menu he desired, to have any of his friends he chose to join us on this adventure.

This was a day for casting off household chores. I put up the ironing board, hung up the dust cloth, took no thought for the broom with its beckoning red handle. I stacked the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink until they looked like an avalanche of ironstone.

This dizzy, sporting day started out with a visit to Cade's Cove, a sequestered little rendezvous deep in the nearby woods. We scrambled down the deep ditch with its little rivulet that we pretended was a moat. There was enough loose soil about to build sandcastles with twigs from the branches sticking out like barricades. We explored the wild foliage around the trench, giving the foliage their real names or ones we made up.

Stones in the pathway leading from the Cove were marked in bright yellow. These immediately served as a code message from the ancient pirates from whom we were escaping.

Then we walked across the meadow, still redolent with flowers that had not yet yielded to the cold. Around the student building of the small college were scores of butterflies lazing in the hedges. We were able to capture these beautiful creatures because they had grown sluggish, preparing for the colder weather. We let each one go after examining it thoroughly. We did not know their scientific names, but we loved their gorgeous colorings.

Next we entered the snack room of the college, where a gleeful little boy ordered a wildly undisciplined lunch of chocolate malt, chocolate cookies, ham sandwich, and peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

With his stomach puffed out like a balloon, we ambled across the street to the merry-go-round, which stood in the open field all through the summer and fall. Clanking, droning music pounded as he rode the white horse, the black horse, the brown horse, the spotted horse, over and over as if this were the last roundup.

Finally he was ready to pick up his little pixie friend, Sheila, and head for home.

On the way back the two children stood in the pass between two large buildings on the campus. They knew that if they shouted here the echoes would bounce loudly from one brick structure to the other.

They shouted!

As they ran down the path toward home, they played at one of their favorite games, ''Fake Falls.'' They tumbled down with such force that I winced, but they were indestructible.

We closed the day on our front porch, with a childish, fervent dramatization of ''The Wizard of Oz'' - although the day was not really closed until we had sat very still and watched the setting of a resplendent sun.

The other day I had a letter from Sheila, a grown woman now, teaching in a university in Tokyo. She wrote, ''I was putting my hair in rollers getting ready to start back to my first day of teaching and suddenly I remembered the 'Day Before School Starts Day' that I used to share with you and Mike. Blessings!''

My son, now a law student, said recently to friends who asked about his environmental work and his fight against pollution, ''I want all the coves to be as clean, and the sunsets as beautiful, as those I remember on a special day we called ''Day Before School Starts Day.''

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