(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.
Hoping for a hummingbird, to remind me we’ll be OK,
Your loyal, devoted, I hope not-too-self-pitying, incomplete but trying to recycle and carry on,