Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An Autumn Story

A jack-o'-lantern illuminated from within by a...

On this first day of autumn, I thought I'd skip ahead to Halloween -- it's not that far away -- and share a story I wrote a few years ago, as a creative exercise, in a woman's voice. I hope you like it.

It's that time of year again. The leaves cover the backyard like my grandmother's quilt on her big, four-poster bed that I climbed up and jumped on as a child. The breeze in the morning is chilly and high clouds wash across the faded blue sky. After the chaos that is breakfast with three children, the house is quiet and the dog and cat lie like lovers in the sunlight coming through the bay window. I can see my neighbor putting out jack-o-lanterns and bales of hay -- the forever child, I think he loves Halloween as much as the trick
-or-treaters who flock to his house every year. It's autumn, and autumn always makes me feel...I don't know...reflective?

I was never very fond of school when I was younger. I stood out from the crowd, too tall, too skinny, freckles, braces, glasses. My hair never cooperated with my mother's religious attempts to make me look beautiful. "Darling," she'd say, "beauty is as beauty does," and she'd shoo me out the door.

But when you're young and it seems as though all the other girls are candidates for the cover of Cosmopolitan and the best you're suited for is the back page of Field and Stream, that's not so easy to believe. So, I became a watcher. I watched the other girls become cheerleaders -- teenage imitations of Barbi -- too eager for love, marriage, and childbirth, and I watched the leaves fall.

Somewhere in the mix, I stopped doing Halloween. Instead, I became my mother's assistant, passing out candy, acting grown up, getting old without even knowing it. My father, not unlike my bachelor neighbor, thought the holiday was a great thing. He'd always buy a mask of some sort or other, and every year his seasonal ritual involved lying in wait for me on Halloween evening, and when I wasn't looking, put it on and give me a "Boo!" I think it must have saddened him when I stopped acting surprised -- maybe I was sad, too.

When my own children were old enough, we began taking them out on Halloween. It's a delight to see them dressed up and hear them squel as they "count their loot" at the end of the evening. But I still feel a little sad. It's as though somehow I can't quite let go and fully share the experience with them. Something within me holds back, as if fearful of discovery. Honestly, I think I'm afraid my children will see me as I sometimes see myself -- too tall, too skinny, with braces on my teeth.

I almost have to laugh or maybe cry. The memories of childhood are so powerful. And yet, there's my husband, raking red maple and oak leaves into a huge pile. Tomorrow night he'll put on that scary mask he doesn't know I know he bought, creep up behind me, and give me a "Boo!" I haven't gotten it all sorted out, not yet at least, but I also know life is brief, all too brief, and that pile of leaves looks like it wants me to run and jump into it, so that's exactly what I'm going to do. My grandmother would be proud.

(Image via Wikipedia)
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