Back in the olden days of '74 (think Watergate, gasoline shortages, the unveiling of the oh-my-God-is-this-what-they-call-a-pocket-calculator-it's-freakin'-amazing!?, The Grateful Dead, "Time in a Bottle", "Jungle Boogie", "The Exorcist", "Herbie Rides Again", and "The Six Million Dollar Man"), I was given a test by the nurses at my soon-to-be elementary school to see if I had what it took to survive the intellectual and emotional challenges of Kindergarten. I hear the testing process went something like this:Fall. Harvest time. The Autumnal Equinox. Back-to-school, Monday Night Football, Vogue's biggest annual issue, and holy-shit-it's-time-to-start-thinking-about-holiday-gifts. Fall sashays quickly in your direction, bundled up in a brand new pumpkin-colored, cashmere scarf from J.Crew; plops down next to you with a mug of hot chocolate while tossing her auburn hair; and whispers in your ear, "Remember when....."
Nurse: [holding up a Maple leaf] Jenny, what is this?
Jenny: [silent stare]
Nurse: [still holding leaf] Jenny, please tell me what this is.
Jenny: [silent stare]
Nurse [pulling my mother aside]: Mrs. Church, if Jenny can't communicate with us, we're not sure she's ready for Kindergarten...
Mom [pulling me aside]: Jenny, why won't you talk?
Jenny [quietly]: Mom, that lady doesn't know what a leaf is...
(I entered Kindergarten that Fall.)
I'd say I have a love-hate relationship with Fall, except I would feel terribly guilty for putting "Fall" and "hate" in the same sentence. Even though I just did. Twice. Maybe it's love-miss. Ohhh, shit. It's complicated...
l o v e
There's an emotional pull to this season I have for no other. I can close my eyes and feel Autumn in all of his moods: yearning (for the beginning of school, to be younger, to be older, to start fresh, to reconnect, to find love, to hold onto it...); comfort (the smell of apple cider and burning leaves, the brrr when outdoors and the mmmn when in...); nostalgia (high school football games, marching band, Penn State homecoming, finally seeing your breath, school books, knit scarves... Boston... Nana...) It's all about enjoying the crisp, invigorating chill, and at the same exact time, it's also about searching for all of the ways to find warmth.
It's an emotional mix of a time. Fall may very well be that beautiful, auburn haired girl, but Autumn is your ex. The one that got away and who you secretly yearn for when the crisp, dark night comes... The one who wore the soft, navy-and-green sweater. The one who made you laugh until you cried; bought you pumpkin ice cream and hot apple cider; took your gloves off and hid them in the veiny, maroon leaves; enveloped you in an argyle embrace; played for you an old U2 cd; and then sauntered away in Hunter boots before you were ready to say good-bye. Leaving you too soon. Always, too soon.
I picture Autumn meeting up every year with Winter at McSorley's in NYC, right around Thanksgiving time. They exchange "hello's", spend a little time talking about how they left their Summer loves, and then immediately start pounding Cider Jack while playing around with the damn Thermostat. Ultimately, Autumn passes out and takes a long nap, and Winter takes three Advil and sees you in the morning. With Snow.
m i s s
I miss Autumn. And I can't for the life of me find him anywhere in Florida. Where's the love, Fall guy? Where's the pumpkin ice cream? I want to hear "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" on your cd player and to stick my new leather knee-hi boots out of the window of your '74 Land Rover. Do you not see me? I'm right here, on the beach. Listening to Jack Johnson and wearing flip-flops.
Life is short, and I fully understand that we need to love what we have. Very important, that. But, I also think that loving what we had is so, so, very important, too. Nostalgia, yearning, missing? All good. It means we have a history to remember. One that was pretty damn good. It means we think the paths that led us here were worth it and that we don't mind how we got here. To love what is present is lovely. To love what is past makes us all the more content.
I love the stories my parents tell me about the Falls of our past. Entering school, meeting new friends, missing Summer, anticipating Winter... And I am hearing so many of the same stories 35 years later, from my friends who are sending their little ones off to school this very week...
I will happily plan for Autumn's return. I am waiting for it. It may be 80 degrees where I am now, but I'll put a fat, happy wreath on the door, spicy candles in the foyer, and sunset-colored decorations to surround us in the season ahead. I'll play George Winston (even more) and put away the pineapple & coconut candles for awhile. And then I'll hug my beautiful Autumn, resting my head on the memory of his soft, argyle shoulder.
No spring nor summer beauty hath such graceh a p p y t u e s d a y .
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
~ John Donne