There’s No Place Like Home

These hometown colors still thrill me every year…

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard…”

-L. Frank Baum, via Dorothy Gale

Fall excursion four, Trail Ride No, 3, was to have been tomorrow, based on the weather forecast reported last week.

Now, the updated forecast is for thundershowers.

Cancelled.

Epic disappointment. Have you ever spent a day with an autistic person who has suffered a disappointing change of plans? This is a profound kind of disappointment – as if it is threatening, in some way – what’ll we do now?

Get out the whiteboard. Write out the feelings. Work it through.

And she did:  my amazing, resilient daughter bounced back, changed her attitude and decided to get over it. Bravo.

Me? Not so much.

The expectation of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season is not enough to soothe my sense of loss when October ends. This year has been a skimpy one in the way of bright blue October skies. Today, it seems, is the last day this year with a shot at it – but there’s more “cloudy” than “partly” today, too.

For a few hours this morning, though, it was there.

I have lived in this town pretty much my entire life, and walked, ridden bikes and driven down these same streets for decades, yet each fall, each October, specifically, it still thrills me – sets my heart aglow, like the trees themselves, that seem to have the ability to exude light from within.

This morning was that day – when I realize that it isn’t really necessary to take a long drive to find that October joy; it is right here.

The photo at the top was taken in my own back yard. So was that gold one. IMG_20181029_134750.jpgThose below were taken within within a 2-3 mile radius of my home.

There’s a “toasted maple,” my favorite fall display, where the tree gets all purply on top but stays golden underneath.IMG_20181029_125553.jpg

There is the incredibly rosy glow of the maples uptown (that’s what we call our tiny but thriving “business district,” which until about 5 years ago had no restaurants (if you don’t count the breakfast joint that closed fifty years ago) but now has three.

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There are the lanes lined with color leading to and from the bluff with views of the lake.

Not just any lake. Lake Michigan. A great lake, which only needs to be referred to as “the lake” for anyone living within 100 miles of it.

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And a view of the park, where the huge old cottonwood finally had to come down, but was replaced with an expanded playground with that newfangled, squishy-bouncy stuff instead of the pebbles, or concrete, or asphalt, or, if we were lucky, the wood chips, of my youth. I spent more time on those tennis courts.

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But here is autumn glory, just a walk, a bike ride or a short drive away.

I finally got my fix – my dose of October’s loveliness, ephemeral.

I’ll take it, and call it enough.

Trying, often failing but still trying, to live in the moment and focus on love and laughter, I remain,

Your loyal, sentimental, nostalgic, one-day-at-a-time,

Ridiculouswoman

Unlikely Tearjerker: Crying at Catalogs

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

(FYI: I mention brand names sometimes. I’m not getting paid for it. Not that I don’t hope to get paid for it someday, to be honest, but please be assured that I wouldn’t accept payment to endorse something I don’t like or don’t use. There’s a name for that. I’m not that.)

Labor Day Weekend. So far, it’s been a weekend of funerals and public mourning here in the US  – Aretha. John McCain. Rainy here in Chicagoland. But Labor Day weekend is still and always, regardless, the informal “official” beginning of the fall season.

My favorite season.

Break out the pumpkins and gourds, the red, orange and rusty leaves, the deep blue October skies, the fall excursions, the clean, brisk chill.

Here come the catalogs.

For a while there, I was the catalog queen. I delighted in finding obscure, funny or “just right” gifts for family and friends in the deluge of catalogs that start arriving in the mail this time of year, anticipating my other favorite season, Christmastime.

The volume of catalogs in my mailbox has decreased markedly, probably because I don’t buy so much stuff from them anymore.

I used to buy Mike a lot of stuff from catalogs.

Clothes, mostly. Like many men, Mike hated shopping, couldn’t stand having to make decisions about which shirt or what color or how many pockets. So I bought most of his clothes for him, primarily from catalogs.

Mostly from the L.L. Bean catalog

I get catalogs from L.L. Bean regularly, I suppose because I buy stuff from them regularly. And the fall L.L. Bean catalog is one fat-ass catalog.

These catalogs are usually neatly divided into women’s clothing, footwear, outdoor gear and men’s clothing.

When I first collect the catalogs from the mailbox, I still find myself reflexively flipping to the back half, where the men’s clothing is featured.

That’s when the tears start.

It used to be fun, joyful, even, to peruse, study, contemplate and even agonize a little over which shirts, what pair of shorts or trousers or which color sweater I would buy for Mike this year. Always something muted – he liked misty ocean blues, olive greens, greys. He surprised me once, on our annual pilgrimage to Renny’s, an old-fashioned all-goods mini-department store in Bath or Damariscotta, Maine, by choosing a bright, rosy orange t-shirt. But for the most part, navy, dark green and greys would do.

Now, looking at the L.L. Bean catalog just feels sad, incomplete. Diminished.

What do I need with a new flannel shirt? Another expensive (always v-necked, I’m short, it helps) cashmere sweater? I’ll only forget and toss it in the shared laundry basket at the top of the basement stairs, where Angelic Daughter will collect it and with her beautiful, helpful, eager-to-please, utterly innocent heart, wash it in hot water and put it in the dryer, to emerge, a pint-sized shadow of its former self.  I have hundreds of dollars worth of such boiled-wool sweaters. I’ll cut them into squares and stitch them into a blanket for my grand-nephew, one of these days.

That raggy sweater up there in the picture was one of Mike’s stalwarts. So much so that it got snagged and torn during bouts of fall yard work. I kept it and, submerged in it, used it in the deep of winter on sub-zero mornings when tending the chickens. Those birds are gone now, but I still have the sweater.

But the catalog. There it sits, on top of my “mount to-be-read” (an expression I am borrowing from a member of a a listserv and website for Patrick O’Brian enthusiasts), half of it now dimmed, shrouded in sad irrelevance.

No man to shop for. Incomplete. Halved.

I’ve learned to give these catalogs a glance, anyway, silently thanking L.L. Bean for their neat organization, making it easy to avoid the back half of the book, where the men’s clothing is grouped. There might be something there my daughter needs. I’ll  give it a look for that.

Boots, hats, gloves, socks. Perennially unprepared for winter before it comes, I’m determined to fix that this year. We’ll have enough to muffle ourselves up in when we go to hang an autumn decoration, obtained on a fall excursion, on the shepherd’s hook by his gravestone, and when the time for winter wreaths rolls around.

Muffled, with that ever-empty space beside us, where Mike, the anchor of our little family triumvirate, should be.

We walk with that empty space beside us, inside us, now, through every moment of our days.

The tear-dampened back half of that catalog flaps limply as I fold it under.

Recycle.

 

Hoping for a hummingbird, to remind me we’ll be OK,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, I hope not-too-self-pitying, incomplete but trying to recycle and carry on,

Ridiculouswoman

The briefcase maneuver

More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

There was a specific moment in time when I finally understood, after decades of confusion and bewilderment, why, even though I think of myself as funny, self-effacing, engaging, and enjoyable to be around, my late husband got so frustrated and yes, furious with me.

And kept saying I was my Mom (oh, yes, my “professionally dissatisfied” Mom).

It was a fight about housekeeping, when after he had meticulously completed a difficult cleaning task I’d asked him to do, I said “hey, that looks great! It would be even better if you also…..” (This is described as “the incident of the cobwebs” in the book I’m writing. I’ll post excerpts when I’m ready.)

Essentially, ‘thanks for that, but now do more, better.’ And he knew that the list of things yet to do, and do better and faster, would be never ending. More, better, faster. Fun, right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t just at home. At work, whenever there were tasks to complete or goals to reach, especially if they were “time bound” (Oh, just take that SMART goal crap and shove it, OK?) I paid much more attention to the work than the worker; cared more about the productivity than the people and persistently telegraphed my anxiety and irritation that things weren’t moving FASTER. Geez, didn’t everyone feel this way? How come everyone who I work with eventually starts avoiding me? Tink-tink, is this thing on?

I’m such a “A” type that I get visibly, rudely frustrated when things don’t move FAST. Everything from how you move your body through space to how you move your thoughts through your mind and out your mouth.

I think I’ve only met one or two people in my life who talk faster than I do. And I’ve met people a foot and a half taller than me who don’t walk as fast as I do.

When I worked downtown, I even came up with a strategy to get around people who weren’t walking fast enough for me. I called it “the briefcase maneuver.” If there were two or three people strolling abreast down the sidewalk, there almost always would be just not-enough room to barge between them and keep barreling on down the street.

So I’d swing my briefcase up in the not-quite-wide-enough gap between them, pretending that I just always walked that way, swinging along with my briefcase, and they’d instinctively look back, flinch away from said swinging briefcase and separate, and through the gap I’d motor.

Sweet, huh?

Now, in my defense, when I telegraphed my frustration it was usually on behalf of my husband and child, when I thought they were becoming frustrated, or bored or anxious that the food wasn’t coming fast enough or the line was too long to get in to the museum, or whatever. But it only made our child more anxious and my husband angrier.

As a parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum, a young adult who used to be an infant, then a toddler, a tween and and then a teen, I’ve had a lot of practice with patience. And I’ve always tried to quell that zippety quickness with persons who have differences or physical disabilities. And I never cease to be amazed at my child’s ability to bounce back, to forgive, to persevere and to keep trying and keep learning.  Even if it took 45 minutes to button one button, or six months to learn how to tie a shoe. And now that I’m on my own as a parent, I marvel at my late husband’s stamina in raising our child, as a stay-at-home-Dad, to adulthood.

When Mike entered hospice, I thought that A-type briefcase-barreling, busy-bee, more, faster, better, get-outa-my-way person, was gone for good.

And for the most part, she is. I’m able to slow down, allow others to go first, to breathe and wait patiently, to smile more and remind myself that every person deserves respect, has their own “stuff,” which may include hidden tragedies, disabilities or disease, and every person should be approached from a kind and loving perspective.

Sounds great. But in practice, on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult and exhausting. For me, anyway.

Case in point: the fall excursion, part one.

I thought the orchard closed at 3. We had things to do in the morning, but we headed out there at 1. On a Monday.

And it was mobbed. C’mon, it’s Monday! A school day! I thought we’d have time to sit and eat lunch, and a nice pleasant stroll to pick some apples.

Not.

Twenty minute wait for a table, but there are hot dogs over there. And you can buy your apple-picking bags right over there.

Right over there in that line that isn’t moving.

And the slowest moving human I have ever seen (at least it seemed like that at the time) behind the counter.

I am unable to process the idea of a working person who has no sense of urgency, ever, even when there is a line wrapping all the way around her counter.

Oh boy. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Adult child is fine, looking around at all the kitsch. Adorable kid in front of us is well behaved and patient unlike the two other kids in front of him.

And the counter person with the truck-stop hairdo (wait, too critical, excise that thought, toxic, toxic thought, she can wear her hair any way she wants to) is moving at a snail’s pace, wrapping soooommmee dooooonuuuttss forrr the fiiiirrst personnnnn in liiiieeeen.

God, help me. Patience, breathe, smile.

Ten minutes later, our turn.

And in response to my question she tells me the orchard is open until 5, not 3.

Whew.

OK, hot dogs. Adult child is very hungry, it is almost 2.

Another line.

And another extremely slow moving human with no apparent sense of urgency.

Breathe.

10 minutes later, two hot dogs. OK, adult child is fed.

And we made it on the haywagon and we had a great ride around the orchard and we picked more than enough apples for a pie.

And those very slow moving people were polite, even though they could tell I was working hard to quell my inner zippety-bitch, and we had plenty of time left over for the big slide, which adult child loves. And I love to watch the happiness and glee.

OK! Fall Excursion part two should be much easier!

Wrong.

October

“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

“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 Ashberry.  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.