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(for my Father)
The leaves still fall in November
carpeting the dying grass
beneath the oaks and magnolias,
each tree offering a
variation in the sound of footfalls.
Your footsteps are silent now,
only by me.
Our late afternoon Sunday walks,
sharp as the light edged past
the tops of the now-bare branches,
cradled in the arms of a seasonal death.
You held my hand
as I walked along the wall when I was small,
and carried me on your shoulders
when I grew tired.
Both of us older,
we would ramble for hours
talking of everything and nothing
until my nose and toes were chilled
and my fingertips hurt
from the dampening cool.
And still your hands were warm.
I cannot think of your hands being cold.
It’s a comfort in some strange way
that you are ashes now
and not lying in the cold earth.
It fits that you are ashes and air
As you burned to me
so bright and warm
all those years.
Kelsea and I are off to North Carolina tonight, leaving the kitty and house in capable hands. E-Bro and the fam are coming on Sunday. MKL will join us on Tuesday. For the first time since Kelsea was born, we are staying in a different cottage – one called Two Suns.
It’s only about 10 houses north of “our” house, but it’s amazing how different that makes both the view and the energy.
When I first started going to Topsail, we stayed in a little tiny house called “The Willard”. I remember the night we first arrived. It was unmarked, we had no idea if we were in the right place, and a hurricane was passing by. It’s not called by that name anymore, but it’s still there and still tiny, though it has been fixed up some. I suggested to Kelsea that we stay there this year, but we decided we wanted to be south of the Jolly Roger Pier.
Once when I was younger than Kelsea, and once again when I was about her age, we couldn’t get “our” house, and so we stayed elsewhere. It was interesting and different, but we still liked “our” house best. I am thinking that will be the case this time, especially since we don’t have a front porch on Two Suns, and Kelsea loves to hang out on the front porch in the afternoons, reading and watching the world go by where the sun is not so ripe and flaming. She’ll have to make do with the side porch at this house. I guess she can play sentry at the top of the stairs.
A change of scenery is never a bad thing, and my photos will have a different perspective, which I hope we will all enjoy.
Having MKL join us is a change as well, since no one else has stayed with us since my parents died, and ex-Pat didn’t even come with us most years. MKL will be meeting the rest of my family for the first time. In my old-fashioned Southern way, I am hoping for my brother’s blessing as head of the family. It’s been two years since I’ve seen E-Bro and the fam, so I think we’re all prepared for changes all around, especially in the kids.
I’m considering whether we want to make time for a side trip this year. Last year’s trip to Bald Head Island didn’t work out as quite the fantasy I’d hoped for, but it certainly was interesting. As MKL has never been to North Carolina, I’d love to be able to share a little more of my home state with him.
Possibilities for a day trip are Moore’s Creek, a Revolutionary War battlefield not too far from Hampstead, or perhaps the Arlie Gardens, where Kelsea and I had… technical difficulties on our last visit, way back when she was three, or maybe even Swansboro. After all, it’s been two years since I’ve made any grievous errors getting lost on the military base. I’m pretty sure they miss me.
But you won’t have to miss me, as Two Suns has wireless, and I promise to keep you posted. (Get it? Posted? HA!)
I can get homesick for a memory, not a place.
Does that sound strange?
Homesickness is fairly rare for me anymore. It happens mostly in spring, when I know that North Carolina is turning green and blossoming while Colorado is still buried under a winter shroud.
But sometimes, it is triggered by a visual, like it was this morning. The bus stopped at one of its usual stops on Hwy. 287, and across the street, a Mo-Po-Po (translation: a police officer on a really cool Harley) was giving some poor guy a ticket, which was not a good way to start his day. At the edge of the small hill on that side of the street is a small pond (more of a giant puddle) and at the edge of the puddle are cattails.
My Mother loved cattails, so I loved cattails. Their brown velvet casings are so soft, and the down that emerges from them is like a blessing, an indicator that it is time for this lovely thing to move on to its next phase of life (or death).
I remember at Topsail, towards the North end of the island at the curve just before the big bridge, stopping at the side of the road for my Mother to burrow into the marsh and cut cattails to take home. They would live for a long time, dried in an old bronze-toned vase with dragons etched and curling up its sides.
I think I have that vase somewhere.
And at Buxton, where a walk on the Maritime Forest Nature Trail in the chill of a beachside March dusk would yield cold fingers and runny noses, she would see cattails, but never disturb them, as the Nature Trail was a protected area. (Though she would snitch a few leaves from the Bay Laurel tree to ensure she had enough to carry her through the year.)
The sight of cattails this morning made me homesick.
We are going home very soon, to a different beach house for this one year, which will be good but strange, and we will start some new traditions, and welcome MKL into some old ones. And I will drive by the curve in the road where the cattails live, and remember.
The verdict in the molestation trial of Jerry Sandusky is in: Guilty.
I read Yahoo Sports writer Dan Wetzel’s article just after breakfast. His previous articles about the case have been fair and shown no bias, which in itself marks him as an excellent journalist, particularly in the sports universe, which often rushed to the defense of its heroes and legends when their worthiness is challenged. With this article, it was as if Mr. Wetzel had let a dam burst. There is no mistaking his personal feelings about this case. And I admire him for expressing them.
I am glad that Sandusky’s victims have found some justice. What happened to them can never be undone, and has left permanent scars but perhaps this gives them an opportunity to live somewhat more peacefully with those scars, knowing their stories have been told, and believed. They have been vindicated.
My own reaction to this verdict has fascinated me. This man is guilty. And yet, somehow, when I read the verdict, I felt a strum of guilt, sorrow, and doubt in myself. Like my childhood self remembering how I must have been mistaken about what was happening, how I should respect and pity my abuser, how it was me that was crazy, not him – not an old grandfatherly figure. Shit.
This has stirred up a lot of stuff for me. How we protect our abusers by our silence, and how we are mentally manipulated by them so that the concept of right and wrong is twisted into something like a cheap candelabra pulled from the ruins of an incredibly hot fire.
I am not one to revel in the misfortunes of others, even when they brought those misfortunes – and this guilty verdict – upon themselves. Perhaps I should find more peace in justice. Perhaps part of my own issue is that my abuser died before I (or anyone else) could confront him. And his sins died with him, except in the minds and souls of those others (and I’m sure there were other, not just me) that he abused. There was no justice there.
I guess I will have to think on this some more.
In my new job, I do a lot of editing, mostly of my own writing or things I’ve adapted from our internal proposal library. I don’t edit as well on-screen as I do from hard-copy – maybe I’m old-fashioned. But at editing time, I leave cube-land and go curl up in a quasi-armchair, iPod going, San Pellegrino at hand. My co-workers know my routine now.
I usually use a red pen and don’t think twice about it. But today, on my quest for a highlighter, I found a box of red pencils. Cool, I thought, I’ll take a red pencil. It sharpened up to a killer point, and I sat down to work. And suddenly, I was overcome.
Back when I was growing up, the universe had switched over to ballpoint pens only fairly recently. People still used fountain pens. The latest and greatest writing instrument innovation was the Flair pen. My father always had half a dozen on his “butler”. The red ones were my favorite – in fact, that’s what I used to write my numbers on the pale green wall above the sofa early one Sunday morning.
But teachers back in those days of yore did not use pens. They used – you guessed it – red pencils. As I held this innocuous instrument in my hand today, I was transported into the skins of my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, and my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Woods. And into my own little 6-year-old self, getting back papers with red pencil marks on them. Gold foil seals for a perfect paper,
red seals for great,
and blue seals for good work.
OK, not quite that kind of blue seal, but you get the picture.
Yes, having that red pencil in my hand gave me some kind of strange, secret teacher-power that I had never been able to tap into, only be subjected to by others throughout my early life. It was a really interesting feeling. I loved it.
So to all of you long-ago teachers and childhood authority figures, I now understand you a little bit better. But I will use my new-found power with compassion and impunity. And I think I’m going to stock up on colorful stickers.
Not as metaphysical as the title sounds. I’ve been watching (on and off today) the Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi Channel. (And can anyone tell me why they changed it to the SyFy Channel?) I remember almost all of these episodes from when I was little. While the show only ran from 1959-1964, and I know we didn’t get a TV until around 1967, they must have been big in reruns on one of the three channels our TV got, back when I was very small.
How do I know this? Because many of my childhood fears were stimulated by the scenarios in the Twilight Zone. I didn’t realize this until today, and it’s been an interesting trip down Repressed Memory Lane.
The one Kelsea and I just watched was “The After Hours” about a department store mannequin who becomes human for a month and then has to return to mannequin status. Those of you in my age group may recall that store mannequins back then were made to look human. So different from what we see today, where mannequins are abstract, headless, wire, almost anything BUT human. I personally believe retailers instituted this change because it was less expensive to manufacture generic mannequins, and because the humanity of the mannequin distracted shoppers from envisioning the clothing modelled by the mannequin on themselves.
But this TZ episode caused me to have a weird relationship with mannequins as a child. I felt very sorry for the mannequin-turned-human-turned-back-to-mannequin on the show, empathetic child that I was, and it made me feel very compassionate towards mannequins in the department store. To the extent that I used to like to put my trusting little hand in each mannequin’s, just to ensure that each knew that there was someone who cared – and who perhaps guessed at their secret humanity.
I was broken of this affectionate gesture when I mistook a live woman who, for whatever reason, was standing very still, for a mannequin. I slipped my hand in hers, and she turned to look down at me, and you can imagine the results. I was shocked, surprised, terrified and embarrassed. She was very nice about it, but my poor Mother had to deal with me burying my face in her skirts for the rest of the abbreviated shopping trip. Between that episode and my pathological fear of the cage elevator in said department store, she had enough of our outing.
There are other episodes that burn dimly in my brain like a flickering light in the darkness that shines on something you don’t want to look at too closely. It was a show that played on people’s psychology better than almost any other I’ve ever seen even to this day, and it was unafraid to have political overtones, which I now appreciate. I think as a child, I learned a lot from The TZ – it made me ask questions.
But it left me with some pretty strange answers.
Tobacco is the second largest cash crop in North Carolina. (Marijuana is the first – similar growing conditions.) My home state is the largest producer of tobacco in the USA. Brightleaf tobacco, sweeter and milder than other available tobaccos, was a favorite of Civil War soldiers. In fact, its popularity was a major contributing factor in the growth and development of the city of Durham, where I was born, with the Bull Durham Tobacco Factory being the first major factory in town in 1874.
Bull Durham was a consolidation of rival tobacco producers, with the merger being initiated by the Duke family. (Yes, THAT Duke family.) This company morphed into American Tobacco, which was split by federal anti-trust laws into five separate companies in 1911. By the time I came along, three were surviving and thriving in Durham: American Tobacco, Liggett & Myers, and R.J. Reynolds.
When I was very small, my parents took me to the tobacco auction. I think we went for two years in a row - I must have been two or three for the first one. I don’t recall that first auction at all, but my Mother told me that they put me up to sit on one of the high bales, and I cried because I was afraid I was going to get cancer from the tobacco. Now, how bizarre is that, that a child of three would know that tobacco is a cause of cancer? The second time we went, I remember enjoying myself, and I remember how strong the smell was. I always wanted to go back, but it seemed we couldn’t after that. I don’t know if they stopped holding the auctions or if they just stopped being open to the public. It’s funny to see the black and white photos, because my memories of the auction are in color. Everything seemed sepia-tinged, the color of teeth stained from smoking for fifty years.
Driving to the beach, we would pass miles and miles of tobacco fields. The leaves were indeed bright and lush and seemed as if they went on forever. I was always amazed at the endless rows, stretching to the horizon. I never saw anyone working the fields and wondered how they were tended, how they were harvested. Tobacco was the first crop I could identify by sight.
In downtown Durham, that scent of tobacco was amazingly rich. Pungent, sweet, smokey, fresh, it smelled like the color of spring green in the Crayola crayon box. The yellow-green color of the tobacco in the fields was the color of the smell. Driving under the L&M bridge walkway on Main Street, there were days when I would hold my nose until the smell was gone. However, as a teenager, I found I loved the smell, practically basked in it when I was driving to work at the restaurant.
Most of the tobacco factories closed down before I left town. American Tobacco was still open, and when I headed downtown for work after school, I had to be sure to avoid one particular street during shift change at the factory – so many people were crossing that it delayed me for ten minutes.
That factory closed in the late 1980s, and was redesigned into offices and shops. From a distance, I lamented the passing of this industry that gave birth to the town. On the positive side, several organizations in Durham (and several developers – pardon me while I spit) have been dedicated to keeping the historic facades of the factories and warehouses alive, so that the character of certain parts of downtown have remained the same for nearly a century. Old Liggett and Myers warehouses were turned into trendy condos, and old American Tobacco warehouses have been developed into Brightleaf Square, a mixed-use complex.
The South’s devotion to retaining its architectural history is both impressive and pleasing. Unlike many other areas of the county (the West in particular), the fact that a building is old does not necessarily mean that it needs to be torn down and replaced with something new. No where else in the country have I seen so many hand-hewn barns and sheds, some canted crazily to one side or another, unused except as a support for rampant kudzu, but still revered for the significance of their past.
(I suppose some could argue that the owners are just too lazy to tear them down, but I choose not to subscribe to that theory – I like my own better.)
I was living in Colorado by the time the movie “Bull Durham” came out, and I loved it. I watched wistfully as Kevin Costner walked down Morgan Street in the dark, past the old tobacco barns turned into condos. Parts of the movie were filmed at the old Durham Bulls Ballpark, which I’ll write about someday. Talk about a ballpark with character.
Although it seemed as if almost everyone smoked in North Carolina, my parents didn’t. Well, that’s not entirely true. My Mother did for a short while before she met my Father, and again during a stressful period when she was in graduate school. I never saw her smoke, but I discovered cigarettes in her purse one day when I was looking for change or gum or kleenex or something. I felt as if I had discovered a betraying secret and it disturbed me terribly, so I had to ask her about it. She wasn’t angry – she was open, but I think she asked me not to tell anyone. It had been drilled into us that smoking was bad for you and a stupid idea.
I didn’t have my first cigarette until the night I graduated from college. I smoked a couple of Marlboros as a peace-offering with a woman who had been cheating with my boyfriend. I actually liked the taste, but I never felt the addictive elements. (E-Bro is the same way. He likes the taste, but could take or leave the whole smoking thing. No nicotine addiction. I wonder why?) After that, I would have an occasional bummed cigarette when I was out in a bar. I only bought one pack in my entire life and my cheating boyfriend smoked most of that. I still have a pack that I found unopened at a catering event some 10 years ago. Pat was a respiratory therapist in his youth, and so was an avid anti-smoker, but he would, on very rare occasions, have a puff of a cigarette to cure a severe case of the hiccups. I have found that a teaspoon of sugar is a better and tastier cure.
(I did smoke herbal cigarettes in college for a month or so, until I discovered that they were worse for you than regular cigarettes and I was asked to leave the student union because they thought I was smoking pot.)
I can’t remember the last time I smoked a cigarette. Maybe it was a hit off of Bubba Sue’s a year or two ago. But my last whole one? Long, long before Kelsea was born. I don’t miss it. The Captain smoked, but that scent was just part of who he was, and I was never tempted when I was with him.
Now, the occasional cigar…well, it’s been a long time since I had one of those either – mostly because I didn’t like tasting it for two days. But in my business travelling days, Davidoff was my favorite brand, and I could only find them in a little cigar shop near Rockefeller Center in New York City. I remember my first cigar. But that too is a story for another time.
I’ve had North Carolina and Durham at the forefront of my mind lately, so I expect I’ll be writing more about growing up Southern. It feels good. And I like things that feel good these days.
Today is the day that the shot that started the Civil War was fired from Fort Sumter, South Carolina. While this wasn’t one of the “shots heard round the world”, it was certainly a shot heard round the United States.
From a born and raised Southerner’s perspective, the Civil War has many layers of meaning and significance. (Let me say here that I’m not a historian, so this isn’t going to be a history lesson. And I am fully aware of the failed and magical thinking of Southerners of previous generations, so don’t shoot the writer.) The war was called many things – the War of Northern Aggression, the War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence – and to this day, when I go home to North Carolina, there are still traces. The side of barn outside of Hampstead still bears a faded wall-sized Confederate flag. Those flags appear on license plate holders of trucks, and on flagpoles outside of small old houses. I still get the sense that the South is biding its time, waiting for the right time to strike – that the war isn’t really over – it’s just in hiatus.
In high school, which is when we first started studying the Civil War, we were taught that it was a war about economics – not about slavery (though slavery was inseparable from economics, wasn’t it?). When slavery was discussed, the focus was not on the philosophy behind it, or even the politics surrounding it, but on the unfair portrayal of slavery and slave owners in histories created by non-Southerners. I also had an English teacher in senior year who sent students out of the room if they said that the South lost the War. Mention of Generals Grant and Sherman were not permitted in her presence. But Robert E. Lee had achieved demigod status in her mind.
Back to the point of today’s post. One lovely summer afternoon, I was wandering through the Virginia Military Institute Museum with a friend. I peered into a glass case and gasped. There was a photograph. A photograph of a man who I’d known my whole life (until he died.) What on earth was his picture doing here? But wait, he looks a little different – he has long hair. And the photograph is a tintype. It’s not possible. I’m so confused! All that ran through my mind in about 5 seconds. When I found the caption for the image, I realized I’d been mistaken…but I’d been as close as could be.
Edmund Ruffin claimed (and many accept the claim) to have fired the first shot of the Civil War. A farmer, writer, ardent believer in state’s rights, and Fire-Eater (a group of extreme pro-slavery activists), he was on the fringes of politics for his entire life. He joined South Carolina troops at the age of 67, which is how he found himself at Fort Sumter for the historical moment. While there is much debate about exactly what his role was in initiating the battle, it is definitely the case that he was present at the firing of the first cannon shot.
Where does this tie into my life? My Mother worked for years for Edmund Ruffin’s grandson, a gastroenterologist in Durham. Dr. Ruffin, a gruff, irascible soul (like his grandfather) had a heart of gold, a green thumb passed down through generations, and a dry sense of humor. Having lost my only grandfather at age 7, Dr. Ruffin served as a sort of surrogate grandfather (without the laps and snuggles – he was far too dignified and scary). He had three daughters, a loving wife, and two faithful servants, a husband and wife couple. I spent much time at his office at Duke Hospital (later at Croasdaile Clinic) and at his plantation-style red-brick house in town, which looked eerily similar to his ancestral home of Evelynton Plantation.
Behind his house, Dr. Ruffin had a garden. This was no ordinary garden. This was at least an acre of seemingly endless vegetables, and a lovely rose garden tended by Mrs. Ruffin. E-Bro and I would go work in the garden in the summers, helping Dr. Ruffin tend the crops. And these could legitimately be called crops. He had rows of cucumbers growing on tall fences. Vines heavy with green beans. Corn, tall and golden. Onions and potatoes dug from the ground. Yellow and pattypan squash. And more tomatoes than anyone could know what to do with. (It never occurred to me to ask what he did with the harvest – I’m sure it was something good for the community – that’s the sort of man he was.)
Summer thunderstorms would chase us inside some afternoons, and the female half of the hired help would give us sandwiches and milk at the small kitchen table. I remember drinking out of the hose from the side of the house, the water icy cold and sparkling, with the metallic tang from the brass hose head. Fresh mint and parsley grew alongside the house by the kitchen door.
I remember Mrs. Ruffin as looking coiffed and lovely. Even though she may not have always worn pearls, she was one of those women who gave the impression that she was always wearing pearls. Her rose garden had little benches and a pergola. I used to try to smell each different type of rose – there must have been a hundred. Even at that age, the adage “Take time to stop and smell the roses” was engrained in my little head. Mrs. Ruffin developed Alzheimer’s, much to the family’s extreme sorrow, and passed away in a nearby nursing home. I think it broke Dr. Ruffin’s heart. I can’t imagine the pain inherent in being a physician yet being helpless to heal the one you love most.
To this day, the smell of sun-warmed tomatoes on the vine takes me back to summers in Dr. Ruffin’s garden. I still laugh at a particular memory:
E-Bro and I were picking tomatoes, and he found one that had been bored into by hornworms. He took it over to Dr. Ruffin. ”What do I do with this?” he asked. Dr. Ruffin said, “Well, you take it, and you take this one,” splatting a second such blighted fruit in his hand, “and you take them both down to the end of the row and you throw them over the fence.” OK, it doesn’t seem to translate, but with the seriousness of his delivery, you’d have thought he was about to reveal some mystical gardening wisdom, not just instructions to toss tomatoes into the woods. Guess you had to be there. I’m glad I was.
In 1865, Less than two months after Lee’s surrender to Grant at the Appomattox Court House, Edmund Ruffin wrote the following:
“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule—to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States!”
He wrapped himself in a Confederate flag and shot himself in the head. Some historians have described this as “the last shot of the Civil War.”
Edmund Ruffin and his grandson were both Southern Gentlemen, with a code of honor that is rapidly becoming a ghost of itself in the South today. I could – and will – write about that concept of the Southern Gentleman, but not now. Today, it’s overcast in Colorado, and I’m a long way from whatever home is now. I’m feeling the need for a quest to reconnect with my roots and discover the directions in which they’ve spread, beneath and above the soil of my soul.
In other words, I’m ready to start something.
Kelsea and I decorated our little Christmas tree with Mr. GF last night. I have always liked live Christmas trees. A fake one just won’t do. It is lifeless, just like canned food.
And we decorated the tree at Pat’s house also, which felt better than last year, but still odd, sad. To be expected in a divorce, I am sure. Pat was civil, if distant. There was no champagne and no laughter, as in most years, but also no irritation. The outcome was nice though – it’s a pretty little tree.
From my bed, I can see my own tree, lit up in the corner of the living room. I’ve always liked sleeping with a lit Christmas tree (regardless of the fire hazard.) In our early years together, Pat and I had a little tabletop tree that we put up on an old typewriter stand in the bedroom. We always had a tendency to get the “Charlie Brown” trees, sometimes waiting until a tree lot was practically bare before succumbing.
We cut our own one year up in the forest above Fort Collins; fortunately, the mix of champagne and hack saws was not a disaster. On our first Christmas in the house, we got the tree from a lot that is now the town hall, and dragged it home by hand in the gently falling snow.
The year that we had trouble and separated for a while, before Kelsea, we reconciled right before Christmas. We went down to Taos, where we had spent part of our honeymoon, and solidified that we were going to make it work. We got back on Christmas Eve. It was the first year we hadn’t had a tree – we usually spent much of Christmas with Pat’s brother and his wife and daughters (wherever the children are is where the Christmas is.) But we both felt strange about not having a tree so we each made a tree for the other. I used a pink flamingo, decorated it with lights and a santa hat and put presents beneath it. He took ribbons and twirled them into a tree shape from the ceiling to the floor and put presents beneath that. It was a nice alternative-tree Christmas.
My childhood Christmas tree pursuits are marvelous memories. We would always get our tree at the tree lot that was set up at the church on the corner near East Campus – was it Asbury? I loved it when they would start to set up the lot because it meant Christmas was coming. When we finally went to pick out our tree, it would take us at least an hour. This was not a decision to be rushed. We’d look at every tree, each having our favorites, until we finally came to a consensus. I usually went more by my emotions – how much a tree felt right to me – than by anything else. Then we’d tie it into the trunk of the car for the ride home – only a few blocks, but I was always so concerned that the tree would fall out. Daddy would put it into a bucket of water in the garage until it was time for it to go up in the house.
Some years, that tree search was accompanied by weather so cold I can remember not being able to feel my fingers and toes. Ever so rarely, there was snow. Sometimes, it was rain and mud. And other years, it was Indian-summer warm. But regardless of the weather, I remember the scent. The smell of those pine trees in their long rows under the colored lights. I would bury my nose in their branches and memorize the scent. Today, that scent brings me back to happy times when I was little and Christmas seemed like it would never come, but came and went all too quickly.
I don’t know what happened to the family ornaments after my Mother died. Perhaps E-Bro has some. Perhaps I have some in one of the boxes that I still haven’t been able to bring myself to unpack since her death. Perhaps they have gone to new homes to become part of other people’s memories.
I expect more Christmas reminiscences will arise over the next few days. They are bittersweet this year, but I will hope for a leaning towards the sweet as the years go by.
This is National Blueberry Popsicle Month….and today is Happy Goose Day. Interpret “Goose” any way you want.
Fall started last week, and I remarked about summer’s last kiss in a post. Today, it feels more evident. We turned the heat on this morning, and Kelsea got dressed under the covers. I remember doing that when I was young. My parents always kept the house at 62 degrees, regardless of how cold it was outside, which meant that it was always cold inside during the winter.
You come up with ways of coping with a cold house in the morning - for me, it was indeed getting dressed under the covers, then going to crouch on the hearth like Cinderella, scraping through the ashes from the previous night’s fire, looking for live coals. I wonder if keeping the house so cool was another carryover from my parents’ Depression-era upbringing. There’s something to be said for that frugal lifestyle; any child raised to think that this is the norm seems to grow up with an ingrained thriftiness. Or they go to the opposite extreme and indulge in overspending. I followed the thriftiness path and it has served me well.
Fall was my father’s favorite season. Being raised in a mining town in the Appalachian mountains in West Virgina, he appreciated the colors of the turning trees, perhaps all the more because of his poor vision and photographer’s eye. His internal temperature was always warm (I have never met anyone else who always had warm hands – he spent hours warming my little ones in his.) He liked school, and fall meant the start of another school year. He loved the crispness in the air and the crunch of leaves beneath his feet.
He and I used to take walks on Sunday afternoons in the fall, just the two of us, from the time I was small until my teens. I can remember the crunch of leaves under our feet as we walked through East Campus. We’d usually go to the Summerhouse and the Fish Pond, then head back home. As always, we talked about anything and everything – and sometimes nothing, just walking along holding hands. I recall scents: of dry dust from the shattered leaves, of wood smoke from houses along the street going home, of whatever my mother was cooking for dinner when we opened the front door.
One of the last times I saw him, we sat in the living room, he in the Daddy Chair as usual, and I asked him what his best memory was. It was simple, personal, set in my grandmother’s house when he was a teenager. He had never told anyone about it before. No one had ever asked him that question. And while it was nothing intimate, it was so intimate to his heart that I treat it as a tender trust, and one I will not share here. A lovely last gift he gave to me.
So the grass outside the cottage is scattered with yellow leaves that the big tree, the one that smell so amazing in the spring, is now shedding. The morning birds are much fewer. There’s only a single cricket holding concert in the evening. Fall is barely here, but already I find my heart turning towards spring, bypassing the thought of winter completely.
Perhaps I will take a walk with my father one of these dusks.