“O Suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather….”
-Helen Hunt Jackson
This was one of my mother’s favorite poems, which she asked for every year as her memory of it faded – but she never forgot the “October’s bright blue weather” line, the essence of the poem and the month.
The daughter of a New England schoolteacher, Mom came from a generation and tradition for whom rote memorization of poetry was required. But this one wasn’t just a school assignment – this one was a labor of love.
Mike and I both loved (and I still love) “October’s bright blue weather.” There is nothing else like an October sky, at our latitude, anyway – the depth and intensity of the blue against the blaze of yellow, orange, red and even purple leaves, the slant of light that comes only this time of year, before the dim gray of November and the sparkling cold dark night skies of December.
It only just occurred to me now, as I write about my Mother’s cache of memorized poems (a lot of Longfellow – she was from Portland, Maine, where his house still stands today – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, and all that) that the only person I’ve ever met who had more poetry memorized than my Mom was my late husband, Mike. He captured me with a waterfall of poetry, recited effortlessly. A lot of Shakespeare, and many poets I hadn’t heard of before. Robert Duncan. HD. Gary Soto. Pablo Neruda (well, ok, I’d heard of him – but I wouldn’t be able to recite any of his poems.) John Ashbery. Mom and Mike could have bonded over that, at least. A love of memorized, recited poetry. They didn’t.
His birthday was in October, and it is coming up soon. The second one without him.
How to commemorate? A graveside visit? A “fall excursion” with our child? Fall excursions were intended as fun, leaf-peeping, pumpkin-and-gourd, hay-bale and cornstalk-obtaining drives, down lazy country lanes lit by those October skies, bright with that blaze of leaves.
And the first decade of them were – songs in the car, let’s-go-this-way-just-to-see-what’s-down-there turns, unexpected discoveries of isolated farms, apples, pumpkins, gourds and cornstalks. With the occasional petting zoo thrown in. Wisconsin.
But as the years went by and the countryside retreated – countryside that in my childhood took less than an hour by car to reach now took three – the excursions became more of an obligation, than an excursion of discovery.
And the last of them with him was truly an ordeal. I wanted to go to a particular town and it was a longer drive than I anticipated, and he didn’t feel well, and he hated my driving. And he was very, very sick – but we didn’t know that yet. We finally got there and he would only stay an hour, sitting in a park on a high hill, while our child played on the swings and I ran around down below, on an accelerated walking tour of the things I came there to see. I won’t be visiting that town again.
But if the prediction for next week is anything close to accurate, we’re due for several days of bright blue weather. And our child and I are going to try to recapture the fun of the fall excursion – and to remember the ones way back when, not the last one, when we didn’t know yet that we’d lose him less than two years later.
To remember, with love, and try to laugh with delight in October once again.