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Kids recognize them in the fine print of autumn. Whether it’s the sensation of the winds or maybe more spectacularly, the casual chatter of geese winging south, children get the message first.

Holidays. The holidays are coming.

Elementary school teachers are first responders. Instructors who wish to maintain any sense of proper classroom decorum while building student-teacher trust have brownish-red paper leaves falling on cut-out pumpkins on their cork boards by now. A black cat. Cobwebs in the corners.

Every room better have a “haunted table” or a “haunted path” complete with fearsome ghouls and frightening phantoms. (In my day, we called it, “math time.”)

Truth is, over the next three months, We’re Off to See the Wizard.

Every kid is the Cowardly Lion on October 31st. Pretending to be unshakable, hundreds of youngsters will enter scary barns, trails or fraternity fundraisers from here to Western Iowa only to emerge, white-faced, terrified and screaming—if they can find their voice.

Survival of the “haunted” experience is a rite of passage to be certified before meeting the Wizard.

November brings the Pur-i-tans and you’d better armor up. Dig out the dark colored clothing. Wash the white apron. Slip into footwear no one would be caught dead wearing.

Thanksgiving is all about the Tin Man. Stoic. Weird little hat. An axe for the turkey. The Tin Man would offer the Thanksgiving blessing if he could only muster some feeling. Instead, you’ll find him happily slicing the pies in the mudroom off the kitchen. Dessert lovers hope he cleaned his axe after the turkey thing.

Before meeting the Wizard, you gotta find your heart.

Dorothy walks us through Christmas. This annual experience deepens us. I recall delivering a Christmas basket for our high school Student Council one year. We included a big frozen turkey. I will never forget the child’s face as I left the sacks. “Why’d you give us a turkey?” He asked. “Our stove is broke.” Christmas became confusing to me that day. New awareness. Understanding. “Home for the Holidays”? Unlike Dorothy, not everyone can go home. More to it than clicking those ruby slippers.

Learning how to care? A check-off prior to meeting the Wiz.

The jumping, dancing, twisting and craziness of the Scarecrow marks the turning of the calendar year. New Year’s Day celebrates the passing of an age, yet another marker along life’s road. Annually, we lose some straw during the year but we stuff it back in, because, well, to make it to another New Year’s Day, we need all the straw we can get.

The foursome encapsulate the fears we have mastered, the feelings which empower our spirits and an appreciation of the needs of those who are walking this planet alongside us.

So grab hold of a kid’s hand. Dance and skip through autumn. First one to the Emerald City wins.

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Don Cunningham of Fremont is a freelance columnist.

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