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While Douglas wonders what he can possibly due to in some way repay Mr. Jonas for his kindness, Grandma cooks in the kitchen. Aunt Rose is in town, and she wants to know what is for dinner. Grandma cooks brilliantly, but unconsciously. She throws in some of whatever she thinks will be good, her spices and herbs are all in unlabelled or mislabeled jars, but somehow she spontaneously senses what belongs and creates delicious foods. Aunt Rose wants to know what each dish is made of, and begins to question what is behind the magic. She convinces Grandma that since she cooks so well in such a chaotic kitchen, organizing everything will make her food even better. She cleans and orders the kitchen, buys Grandma a cookbook, and gets her a new set of glasses.
Dinner the next night is a disaster. The food is terrible, and everyone excuses himself or herself early. Grandma is shocked, and Grandpa Spaulding decides that things had gone too far. He meets with all of the boarders and comes up with a plan, telling Douglas what he must do. The next afternoon Douglas offers to take Aunt Rose for a walk. When they get back to the house, Aunt Rose's luggage is packed and there is a railroad ticket on top of it. Grandpa invites her to leave. When Grandma comes back from shopping she finds out that Aunt Rose had to leave, sadly, and that she said to say good-bye. Everyone laughs about the event sitting in the library while waiting for Grandma to cook dinner. The meal comes, and the food is still bad. None of the boarders or family members eat their food, and Grandma begins to cry, thinking that she has lost her ability to cook.
At midnight, Douglas moves quietly into the kitchen. He takes all of the spices out of their nicely labeled tins and returns them to their old, disorganized homes. He throws herbs all over the place as they once were. He takes the neatly stacked dishes and silverware and sets them all over the place. He hides his grandmother's new glasses. Using the cookbook that Aunt Rose purchased Douglas kindles a large fire in the stove. At one o'clock, when a huge roar comes out of the stove, Grandma comes down. While Douglas hides, she begins to cook. At one thirty the smells draw everyone downstairs, and by two the food is ready. The entire house eats their fill and the food is spectacular. Grandma has regained her ability to cook, and Douglas knows that he has done all he could due to repay Mr. Jonas—he has passed on the magic.
Tom and Douglas walk past the general store and see school supplies in the windows. They realize that summer is coming to an end. Back at the house they help Grandpa with the last of the dandelion wine, marveling at the magnificent bits of stored summer. When Grandpa points out that as you get older things blur together, Tom insists that he will always remember this day. Grandpa agrees with him, and the three go back into the house to prepare for autumn. Just as his magic awoke the town that first day of summer, Douglas puts the town to sleep on this last day of summer, thinking about the summer that remains in the dandelion wine as he falls asleep.
Douglas's love of life has returned after Mr. Jonas's gift. The world is again a magical place for him, and the thought of his own death, somewhere far in the future, can no longer change that. However, Aunt Rose threatens the magic by questioning Grandma's cooking. Aunt Rose represents the possibility that taking away their spontaneity may ruin some things in life. Knowing how Grandma made the food will not make it taste any better, and Douglas knows that the only way he can bring back Grandma's gift is to somehow give her back her spontaneous knowledge of cooking. He does this, and what he has really given her is a little of the magic of life, the same thing that Mr. Jonas gave to him. The novel suggests that to live happily in the world without worrying about things can be wonderful. Just as mowing the lawn can produce philosophers, cooking without exact ingredients can produce delicious meals. These are just smaller examples of what Douglas learned all summer—living itself is the magic. There is no need to question life or worry about death when the beauty of life is all around you.
Summer has ended, but what Douglas learned will never be forgotten. He learned what it is to be alive and know that you are alive. Tom is not as old as Douglas and has not learned all of the same lessons, but he is all right, and we know that someday these same things will come to him. The end of the book is infused with a single sentiment—love of life. To be a twelve year old boy in the summer is wonderful, but to be that boy's grandfather is also wonderful. Every day there is something spectacular to be seen, felt, heard, smelled, or tasted. For it is not simply summer that is magical but life itself. As Douglas falls asleep he knows this, for what he really learned from Mr. Jonas was that the magic of life never ends.
All of the changes that seem to occur over the course of Douglas's summer belie the greater truth that life continues on much the same as always. As a kid, he wants things never to end, and so he is sad when John Huff leaves, or when Colonel Freeleigh dies, but what he learns is that even through all of the changes some things remain. Just as a sip of dandelion wine brings back a bit of summer, so in our memories do we bring back bits of people who are gone. And as things leave other things come to take their places. Summer may be gone, but autumn brings many things, some old, some new. Life cycles much like the seasons, and Douglas is content with his life. Maybe some day in the distant future he will be, like Colonel Freeleigh, a sip of dandelion wine, bringing memories of a remote summer to those who were never there.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dandelion Wine!