Autumn returned like an old friend. Oh, you’re back. I’ve missed you! Evening temps dipped into the 40’s. Yellowing leaves rustled in the cottonwood trees. Apples arrived: in farmers’ markets, produce sections, on teachers’ desks. Don plucked a few from a 1950’s-era tree in his mom’s backyard, arranged them on our kitchen windowsill. I pulled one out of the lineup on Monday morning, gave it a good scrub, bit into it: sweet and tart, crunchy and juicy. Golden delicious. Perfect name. The newsfeed on my cell phone stared up at me from the kitchen counter. “58 dead, 500 hundred injured in Las Vegas massacre.” I blinked. Swallowed. Read the news again. What?
After a five-month hiatus from this blog I’d planned a breezy, how-I-spent-my-vacation reentry. I would explain that I hadn’t intended to take the entire summer off, that the record-breaking heat had pulled me away to Lake Tahoe’s aqua waters and Balboa Island’s frozen bananas, to backyard BBQs with family and friends. I figured I’d yammer on about splashing in the pool with grandbabies and blowing Lawrence Welk bubbles on the lawn. Sweet white corn and grilled zucchini. Vine ripened tomatoes grown in neighbors’ gardens, left on our front porch for us to enjoy. Roasted marshmallows and gooey s’mores. The sun at dusk on our shoulders. Night blooming jasmine. I stared at the keyboard. The October 1st horror reverberated. Survivor-guilt set in. What to do? Surely this wasn’t the time to celebrate summer’s memories, to greet autumn’s arrival. Oaks raining acorns. Squirrels clutching them close, ever so pleased, glancing this way and that before scampering off into the trees. But don’t mention it. It would be rude. Insensitive. We are, as a country, in mourning.
There’s this scene in the World War II film Mrs. Miniver (1942): It’s after dark in the English countryside. The Luftwaffe’s air assault on the tiny village of Belham has begun. The Miniver family seems safe and warm inside its homemade shelter. Stacked sandbags line the corrugated metal walls. Gas masks hang from ceiling hooks. Kerosene lamps light the space. An open vent provides ventilation. Mrs. Miniver–ever calm and nurturing–reads a bedtime story to her two young children. Her husband Clem–listening to his wife’s voice, to the cadence of her words–presses tobacco into his unlit pipe. Explosions sound, the shelter rocks. Dust seeps in. The children have fallen asleep; their pet cat purrs. Mrs. Miniver comes to the final phrase in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”
Closing the book, Mrs. Miniver reaches for a thermos, pours hot tea into cups for herself and Clem. She pulls cookies out of a canister. Staring off, Clem nibbles his biscuit. He repeats the phrase happy summer days. He and his wife smile at one another, as if to say we’ve had happy summer days before. Surely we’ll have them again.
Simple joys–and the memories they create–help us carry on, even in the worst of times. Put the tea kettle on. Bake some oatmeal cookies. Celebrate this moment, this beautiful fall day.
Next up: Iowa.