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Colonel Freeleigh dreams that he is the last apple in a tree and that he is surely going to fall. Waking up, he reaches for the telephone and thinks back to when Charlie and the boys used to visit him. He is sad that they have been turned away by the locked door lately. The doctor said he could not have visitors because they excite him. He calls Mexico City, where a friend of his opens a window and lets the colonel listen to the sounds of life. Hearing the noise seems to reinvigorate him, until a knock at his door announces his nurse is coming. She comes in to check his pulse, sees the phone and scolds the colonel for exciting himself. She says he should not have had the kids in either. He tells her that it was great to speak to the children, to feel alive, and that it is worth it, even if it is bad for his health. The least he can do is have the phone. The nurse tells him she cannot let him use the phone, and when he points out that he pays her salary she says it is to keep him healthy. She takes his wheel chair out into the hall.
The colonel somehow manages to run across the room, and grab the phone before collapsing to the floor. He calls his friend in Mexico City again, and convinces him to open the window one last time. He listens to the sounds in rapture, slumped on the floor. Minutes later Douglas, Charlie, and Tom come in, and they see that the colonel, their friend, is dead. Douglas takes the phone out of his hands and hears the closing of a window.
Tom and Douglas are playing with the Civil War cannon in front of the courthouse the day after the colonel's death. Douglas tells Tom that he realized that yesterday many people died, because along with Colonel Freeleigh all of the stories he told, all the people he described, they all disappeared too. He is concerned because he is not sure what they will do without all of those colorful characters and wonderful stories in their lives.
Douglas and Grandpa Spaulding are pressing the dandelion wine for July. As the finish number thirty-one, Grandpa announces that only August remains. Douglas thinks about this and looks up at the bottles on the shelf, one for each day of the summer. He sees the day that he realized he was alive, the day the John Huff left, and the day that Colonel Freeleigh died. Douglas points out to Grandpa that the way things are going there will not be much left by August. Grandpa tells him that he needs a sip of dandelion wine to cheer up, and Douglas drinks a little bit and feels much happier. He runs away to burn off the energy surging through him from the drink.
Colonel Freeleigh loved spending time with Charlie and the boys, and he did not care if it was bad for his health to do so. He was an old man whose health was failing but who found it more rewarding to liven his life up for a few hours, even if it meant shortening his days. The colonel is a metaphor for a common question about life: whether it is quality or quantity that matters in life. Colonel Freeleigh lived a very long time, but it was the content of his life that the boys found so interesting, and it was the content that mattered to the colonel in the end. He wanted to feel alive at the end of his life, and was happier with a fast death than a slow loss of feeling leading to oblivion.
The colonel's conversation with his nurse and her instructions also bring up the issue of whether someone has the right to tell another person what to do with their life. He paid her salary, and yet she told him that he could not do what he wanted to do. This is because her job was to keep him alive, and yet it was not necessarily the colonel's goal to live as long as possible. In fact, the colonel just wanted to feel the blood rushing through his veins as he told the boys the magical stories that transported all of them to another time. The colonel was not happy being old and confined—he wanted to live life as he had while he was a younger man, free to enjoy the sounds and smells and sights of being alive. His call to Mexico City shows just how sad he was without the boys around to talk to. Compared to sitting in his room all day, simply the sounds of a city, the hustle and bustle of everyday life, provided contentment and excitement enough for the colonel.
With Colonel Freeleigh's death Douglas comes closer to understanding what death means. He realizes that it is not simply the physical being that no longer exists but also that all that was contained within the person's mind is gone forever. The colonel's mind was possibly the greatest one that Douglas and his friends had ever come across, for he was truly a Time Machine. This loss makes Douglas quite sad, and he is gloomy while bottling the dandelion wine with his grandfather, but a sip of the wine is enough to lift his spirits once again and infuse him with energy. Even amongst all of the sadness that has been a part of Douglas' summer his grandfather helps him remember that there is still much fun to be had. The bottles of wine hold all of the summer within them, the sad events and the joyous ones, and it is a part of summer to move on and enjoy the rest. Douglas is learning that life often involves moving on, not forgetting sad events but not dwelling on them either, thus allowing happiness to return.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dandelion Wine!