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TERRY WOSTER: Saying goodbye to summer

  When you grow older and deep into the empty-nest world, you forget just how chatty a 5-year-old can be until you drive Highway 83 from Vivian to Pierre with one in the backseat, fresh from kindergarten and excited about seeing her grandma, her Brookings cousin and the flavor-of-the-day at Zesto.

I had the opportunity to be reminded of the conversational ways of a young girl last Thursday, when I met our Chamberlain son and daughter-in-law and brought the 5-year-old to Pierre for a holiday weekend visit before the real start of the school year. The parents had to work on Friday. The kindergartner had a break, well deserved, I'm sure, after a long week of socializing, learning songs and sign language and generally doing whatever 5-year-olds do at school.

I drove Nancy's car. The 5-year-old sat in a car seat in the back, looking out the windows and -- between new kindergarten-learned songs about catching a fish alive and such -- kept up a running commentary on the world flashing by on either side of the road. I've driven that road hundreds of times, but I never knew there were so many cattle in the pastures, so many hawks on the fence posts, so many bright yellow sunflowers or so many places in the road where a hill makes the driving surface fall out of sight of view through the windshield as we encountered in the 30-plus miles from the Interstate 90 exit to the Missouri River bridge between Fort Pierre and Pierre. The granddaughter saw them all.

She made sure I knew about every bird, animal and plant, too, even if she sometimes told me I was too late to see what she'd seen and other times told me not to bother looking because I was driving. (She's pretty safety conscious for a young child. She also speaks clearly and with a good volume, apparently recognizing my hearing limitations.) I could watch the road in peace, anyway, because she was making sure I knew the color of each cow in the herd, the size of the hawk on the fence post and the number of petals on the sunflower heads (a lot, apparently.)

Well, we made it to town safely, and grandma got to hear the story of the trip mile-by-mile. Lewis and Clark should have had our granddaughter with them on their journey of discovery two centuries ago. She'd have kept a journal in her head and recounted every adventure, in colorful detail.

The Brookings granddaughter and her parents arrived later in the evening. She brought with her a friend who also is starting her senior year of high school. The weekend was sort of a "goodbye to summer" thing. We've been trying to find a good weekend to get the Brookings family out on Lake Oahe, and we were running out of time.

On Saturday, we took the boat out on the lake. The breeze was pretty obnoxious, raising stout waves all the way up the lake and capping those waves with foam that sparkled in the sharp sunlight. Even so, the two granddaughters and the friend rode a tube until they couldn't take one more jolt or bounce. From my perspective in the driver's seat of the boat, all that flying around on the waves looks pretty foul, but the girls laughed, so we were doing something right.

The Chamberlain crew left late Saturday, but the Brookings people had one more day on the water on Sunday. I pulled them around the lake until the friend went flying over the back of the tube. The two high-school seniors decided that was just about the perfect time to call an end to their summer adventure on the river. We deflated the tube, motored to the dock, trailered the boat and headed town.

As I drove away from the West Shore parking lot, I could see the lake in the rear-view mirror. I wondered if the others in the pickup felt as I did, that we were driving away from a world of warm water and summer breezes into a world of falling leaves and blowing snow.