Autumn officially begins next week, but for me, it started yesterday, when the temperatures fell and I needed a sweater to stay warm throughout the day. Although I’ve spent fall in other parts of the country, nothing matches the beauty of New England, when the apples ripen and verdant trees turn russet and gold. This happens quickly. In September, tree tops show splashes of color here and there, but within a few weeks, the hills become a patchwork quilt of saffron, copper and crimson. The fragrant breezes of summer are replaced by October’s chill spiced by the faint scent of rotting leaves and wood smoke. Lazy afternoons on the beach are replaced by planting mums and replacing worn weather stripping.
As a child, I loved fall’s crisp blue skies and brilliant sunlight. It was a time to pull on woolen skirts and knee socks, to fold away shorts and swim suits, and stow bicycles and lawn chairs. My sisters and I conspired about Halloween, planning elaborate costumes and Trick-or-Treat pranks. School was in full swing, and we scuffed through the fallen maple leaves by the church steps on the way home from the bus stop, our arms laden with earmarked books and notes we passed during math class. In fall, crayons still had points, new shoes still shined and teachers hadn’t begun to yell when they got frustrated with noisy children. Although the calendar year was beginning to wane, the reopening of school made it a time for new beginnings and fresh starts.
When I was a teenager, autumn evenings were often filled helping my mother can pickles, jam, and vegetables from our back yard garden. We stood side by side in the kitchen, slicing and chopping, filling Ball jars, and bathing them in a bubbling pot of water. It was the perfect setting for long talks about school, boys, our dreams, our faith. From cook books I learned how to preserve food and stock pantry shelves, but from my mother, I learned to preserves relationships and stock one’s heart with love and laughter.
During the fall of 1982 I was newly pregnant with my daughter Abigail. The honking of Canada geese as they flew across a nearby pond heralded a new era of my life. As is the case with most first-trimester mothers, I experienced several weeks of morning sickness. In October, my husband took a week’s vacation to replace the roof of our little house, and I would listen to the banging of his hammer while I fought the bile that rose in my throat. At last the roof was completed, with the exception of the shingle caps for the peak. As Paul climbed the ladder under the sinking sun, rain clouds gathered overhead. When the last of the twilight sky turned to black, it began to shower. Paul was desperately trying to hammer the caps in place, but was unable to see. Ignoring my queasy stomach and the fact that heights made me dizzy, I shakily climbed the ladder and sat on the roof to hold the flashlight. We straddled the roof, raindrops dripping down our necks, until the last of the cap was in place. I looked at my husband’s fingers, bandaged and bleeding from when the hammer missed its mark. He flashed me a grin. We had done it- the roof was complete- and our house would be a warm nest for our expected little one. To this day, when the October skies turn gray and I hear the faint honking of Canada geese, I remember that happy day, when determination triumphed over circumstances, and love prevailed over fear.
Now, as summer pales and the nights leave heavy dew on the car windshield, I fight against feelings of loss and nostalgia that threaten to leave me unmotivated and despondent. No longer do I have school or canning or a new baby to anticipate. The coming of fall marks the end of summer. It is time to haul my beach chair and umbrella to the attic, to scrub windows that will soon be latched against the cold New Hampshire winds, and to wash the cedar from wooly sweaters. No more lazy Sunday afternoons drowsing on the beach. No more humming of fans and tall glasses of lemonade. No more long legged children who leave wet towels on the beds and unlaced sneakers on the floor.
I sigh and shake my head- no pity parties for me. There is applesauce to be made, and Christmas pajamas to sew. The sky is a brilliant blue and puffy white clouds part to reveal a golden sun. It’s time to say goodbye to summer and greet fall with open arms.