Autumn arrive like the flip of a light switch this year. Summer had be gently clinging to the curves of September. Then the world shook itself, like a shaggy dog just waking up. Autumn is a great gray beast, with heavy lidded eyes and chill, huffing breath, and cool water dripping and puddling around its large feet, which rattle the earth and shake the leaves from the trees. It regards us all with keen disinterest, and waits until we have almost forgotten about us. Then it roars and sends scarves snapping and hats tumbling and rosebushes rattling while it chuffs a laugh at our expense.
I pulled my heavy leather coat out of my closet. It is deep maroon, almost brown, and at least twenty-five years out of date, which means it's in style again. I found it at a flee market and it fit just right. I borrowed ten dollars from my Dad to buy it and I've never paid him back.
I pulled my boots from under the rocking chair my mother bought me. They're ropers that I found at Young's Western Wear in Valentine, Nebraska, for half off last March. They're only just now beginning to be broken in, the stiff black leather loosening reluctantly. Some days I think I'm not actually breaking in my boots, but rather breaking in my feet.
I sorted through the hamper of winter clothes in my closet for my turtlenecks and sweaters and found my silk thermals again in the bottom of my underwear drawer. I even found some thigh-high knit socks, but they keep sliding down to my calves. I wonder where I stashed my garter belt? The irony of wearing a satin garter belt to hold up thick cotton socks makes me smile.
I took the ventilation fan out of my window and stuffed the cracks with foam so the old wood and glass doesn't rattle in its frame every time the wind blows. I've been checking on my pigeon chicks, hoping they're large enough to fly away so I can take out my air conditioner and clean up the window sill where they've been nesting. Some Saturday soon, I'll spend the afternoon putting plastic over my windows and shrinking it down tight with a hair dryer.
All these little preparations we go through become ritual for us now living in a culture divorced of it's traditions. We no longer have harvest festivals and canning parties and all the other little things people did together to acknowledge the sway of nature. We just have our individual habits, which are nonetheless ingrained in our psyches, but to a more dangerous degree because we're doing them all alone. They're all about us. We are no longer the community banding together to make it through another long winter. There's no sense of taking care of others. We'll just keep going to the supermarket on our own and buying bananas from the Caribbean all year round, like nothing has changed.
I like to have my mom come over and help me put the plastic up on my windows. It's silly. I don't really need the help and she has things she'd rather do, but I still like it. We usually do it on a game day Saturday and Dad comes too, but he goes to the game when I can get him tickets and to the sports bar when I can't while Mom and I putter around my little apartment. Before he goes, he'll help me move anything I need to move (for whatever reason) that was too heavy for me alone. When Mom and I get done, I make us hot chocolate and cookies and then we go down to my mom's favorite antique store, just a few blocks from my house. After a while we pick up Dad and they go home to Omaha. It's a silly tradition, but at least it's something.
When I had the house in Gretna, I used to have an apple party every fall to harvest the two apple trees and lone pear tree in my backyard. In the afternoon, we'd fill bag after bag from my all organic, totally wild, completely unpruned apple trees. We'd make pies and apple butter and cider. My coworkers would bring their kids. In the evening, we'd sear meat on my little charcoal grill, drink, talk, and inevitably devolve into giggling innuendo once the kids were gone. My dogs and cats would run around underfoot until they were petted to death, exhausted, and happy. I miss that.
This weekend I'm going to make potato soup, my one and only culinary accomplishment. I'm inviting one and all to come, make soup with me, bring their own jars and take some home. It tastes better when it's shared. I start with a roue, use real butter, whole cream and whole milk, diced potatoes with their skins still on, corn, cheese, and spice to taste with lots of pepper, sage, rosemary, and thyme. It takes hours to cook down, but it keeps in the freezer for weeks.
We need more things like this, more things to remind us how friends and family used to take care of each other in a physical sense, before we became a culture obsessed with independence and self-centered ladder-climbing. Humans are social creatures and prior to this past century we lived in groups because it was necessary for survival. We still depend on others, but those others are faceless, anonymous, unseen, unmet, and unnoticed.
I think we need to remember, and I can't think of a better time of year to do that than in the autumn, when life starts to get hard.