Posted: 09/28/2021 22:10:05 PM
Modified: 09/28/2021 22:10:07 PM
As surely as sugar portends the coming of spring, September slips into October with its usual seasonal observances: hills and mountains ablaze with dying leaves, southernmost tour buses roaring past the sidewalk tables of State’s Cafe. Street, and hundreds of internet comments lamenting the passing of summer, the increasing cold and darkness, and the fear of winter – all of them remembering happy days – very gloomy, sad and elegiac.
Personally, I welcome the change. The heat and humidity in August were particularly oppressive. Now, as I contemplate the impending pleasures of flannel sheets and down comforters, the tactile bliss of woolen and fleece garments, the familiar aroma of a hot stove and the fact all too obvious that winters do. aren’t what they used to be – how long has it been since we’ve seen 30 below? – the terror I often felt during my outdoor construction days is replaced by fierce geriatric bravado.
The artists from Vivaldi to Frost didn’t celebrate so much as they reflected on autumn – a time of drowsiness, like groundhog or apple picker; measurement work done, like cellars full of potatoes, cupboards full of canned vegetables, or sheds full of stacked firewood. But for me, at my age, after digging potatoes or chopping down trees, Shakespeare does it best in Sonnet no. 73: “Choirs in bare ruin, where the gentle birds sang late.” This apparent lamentation for what is irreparably lost, followed by the injunction to “love this good which you must leave before long”, rather evokes in me a silent recapitulation, and a celebration, of so many happy memories.
Smells have a lot to do with memories. My grandmother always stayed at home on Sunday mornings to prepare dinner. She slowly cooked her roast in a soapstone stove. The return of the church to the aromas of its cuisine was a first indication that all was well in the world. Then there was the smell of chlorine in the YMCA pool; on the way back from the Y to the bus stop, the open door of the Karmelkorn store; and as the bus passed the bakery, the mouthwatering fumes of fresh bread. I no longer need to feel them; the reality could not be sweeter than the memory.
It would be easy to regret lost loves, but it is sweeter to remember how wonderful each was back then. My crush on a seventh grade classmate led to a date at a dance in college. She lived too far from school for us to walk, so I carried her on my sister’s bike. I got up and pedaled; she sat in the seat behind me with her feet swaying in the breeze. The romanticism of this evening is still alive.
We are all steeped in ancient mental delights, if we can forget the pain of their demise. We also surround ourselves with artifacts. My old Winchester 94, its worn blue to the silver I wore it to, will never go into the woods with me again. My Adirondack guide boat, one of the finest models ever, is painted blue to match that of a Homer’s favorite painting. It took me 40 years to get it. When I walk into the barn and my headlights hit that shape and that blue, I just look for a few moments like it’s a Renoir. Above my bed hangs a picture of the irresistible young woman who has become my wife. It was our first night meeting, maybe a week after the meeting; I think we both already knew that. She sits on an Adirondack ledge with her back to the camera and her arm around my German Shepherd puppy. None of us suspected what life had in store for us. But that day was as happy as any for the next 59 years, until his death.
I think of old canoe partners, arctic summer days without darkness, black flies and mosquito swarms, muskoxen and caribou; lake trout and char as long as my arm; the roar of familiar men’s voices in a lamp-lit cabin on dark winter nights; the faces of my children as a bear swam across Eagle Lake in front of our canoe; my adorable dogs waiting at the rainbow bridge and the little one right behind me in our recliner. Without knowing how far the end can be, I’m sure the most precious things we can accumulate in our lives are fond memories.
Knud Rasmussen, the ethnographer, asked Orulo, an old Inuit woman, about her life. Afterwards, she said: âAs I told you about my life, I seemed to relive it. And I saw and felt it all like when it was really happening. … There are so many things that we never think about until the day the memory awakens. … and I couldn’t help but cry with joy thinking I had been so happy.
Willem Lange can be contacted at [email protected]