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Posts Tagged ‘autumn’

I was sitting at the vet’s office this morning, waiting for Summer Moon’s appointment for her second puppy shot.  She’s been home since September 11, and Rhythm and I have been adjusting to being a two-retriever household again.

The vet’s office has glass doors on all the exam rooms; and across the waiting room, I could see a woman bending over a dog, lying on the exam table.  She was obviously waiting for the vet to come in.  But more than that, the angle of her body and the way she held her dog, told me that she was pouring out all the love and comfort she had on a seriously ill pet. My heart ached.  That was me, back in May, holding Melody, my twelve-year-old Golden Retriever, and telling the Universe not to take her.  Please, please, please.  Not my Melody.  Not now. Not yet.  Not ever.  Please.

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Melody

Well, I lost that round.  Obviously.  And, as I sat watching the woman on the other side of the glass and sending her all my love and prayers, I also thanked the Universe for starting me on another journey with a new, beloved pet.

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Summer Moon

But then it hit me.  Hard, and then harder.   Love is still who we are, really.  Fundamentally.  At our core.  We love each other.  We love our pets. We love the small moments that make life wonderful and magical.  A sunny day.  The first hint of autumn.  A vermillion leaf on the sidewalk.  A rainy day and a cup of hot tea with honey.   The smile of a husband or a wife or a child.  We love on in the face of loss.  We love unconditionally.  We are champions at love.

As I sat in the vet’s waiting room, I realized that I was looking at love through the glass door where the woman stood over the table, holding her dog.  There are terrible people in the world who do terrible things.  We’ve seen that yet again this week.  But the black souls among us cannot change the true meaning of US, which is love.

I didn’t see the lady and her dog when we came out of the exam room after Summer’s checkup. But I hope the vet sent her home with good news. I was grateful for the moment when I’d seen her behind the glass and realized that love is truly the driving force inside us.   Love, I told myself as I left with the exuberant new life the Universe has entrusted to me.  Love.  Focus, focus, focus.

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Autumn has come to Southern California. Trouble is, the change is so subtle you have to know what to look for to realize the seasons are turning. Suddenly the air seems very focused and sharp, even though the temperature is still 81º. Crows caw, sounding ominous and lonely in the late afternoon heat. Fewer mallards, and now no ducklings, swim circles among the dry reeds in the  pond close to our house. Trees grow brown, and their leaves shrivel, but hang on. Here and there, a few liquid amber trees – a relative of the Eastern maple – change color, some turn dry gold, others dusty red. But autumn here looks more like summer drying up than a season of breathtaking color and bountiful harvest.

I know because I am an ex-pat Southern girl. People hear my accent and ask how I got from Tennessee to Southern California. The answer is simple: in 1985, I agreed to a too hasty marriage to the wrong person, who had taken a job here. Without even one prior visit, I arrived in San Diego in November 1985 and realized at once I was living in a foreign country. I hadn’t bargained for that. But I hadn’t bargained for much of what was to come.

Autumn in the South, is a deep, lush season. It begins in September with crisp, cool mornings warming to sharp, golden noons, and cooling to vermillion sunsets. The trees go from green to brilliant gold and flaming orange and red almost overnight. Then the leaves fall, covering the grass in deep pools of vibrant color. When I was a child, my parents paid me a minuscule wage to rake them into piles to be carted away to compost. I couldn’t resist the temptation to build leaf forts first and jump into them, scattering red and gold in all directions.

Autumn in the South means FOOTBALL. (Not football.) When I couldn’t be bribed into raking, my father would take over the chore, wearing a soft plaid flannel shirt, transistor radio in his breast pocket. The long golden afternoons marched to the steady cadence of the announcer’s voice, punctuated by my father’s sharp cries of joy or dismay at Tennessee’s progress.

Autumn was bittersweet for me because it meant back to school. On one hand, school was my forte: I was an excellent student. On the other, school was the place I began to perfect the art of covering my true identity from the world. Good little Debbie Hawkins with her pigtails who sat up straight in her desk, did her homework, and never gave the teacher any trouble was not the real me. The real me was hiding underground.

Autumn always brought new clothes. In those days, mothers sewed. Late August meant sitting on high stools in department stores, looking at pattern books, and picking out new school dresses. I wasn’t a fan of figuring out which patterns to buy. You could never tell until they were sewn up if the dress was going to flatter or make you want to hide forever. But I loved walking between the tables that held the bolts of fabric, fingering the soft wools, the supple jerseys, and the crisp cottons. I wanted one of each. School was rarely a creative exercise. It involved regurgitating long lists of facts the teachers thought our lives depended upon. But holding and draping fabric in autumn grays and tans and browns – ah, that was pure magic!

My first child was born during the beginning of the second autumn that I lived here in exile. She was a September baby, coming at just the moment when the lazy summer air focused sharply on turning the corner into fall. The man whom I had married had vanished back to his twelve-hour days at the office. I had thought we would at least share parenthood. But I was wrong. Alone in a tiny rented cottage, I struggled to learn the ways of new motherhood with a child who cried twenty hours of every day. One morning, I saw a group of children from the local preschool pause in front of the liquid amber tree in the cottage’s front yard. They were picking up the dusty gold leaves that had fallen. That poor lonely liquid amber was the only tree of its kind in our tiny community. The rest were palm trees and evergreens. No wonder the children had journeyed from their school to see a phenomenon that in the South was as common as breathing autumn air. Alone and exhausted, I began to cry for all the autumns my California children would never have.

Since that day, I have traveled a long journey, coming to love this strange, raw land that is home to my three amazing children. I have decide this blog is going to become the story of that journey; and how I, perpetually an ex-pat, came to terms with largely foreign ways. Once upon a long time ago, I was a graduate English student, studying Irish literature. Somewhere during those days, I read that if you are born Irish, you are always Irish, no matter where life takes you. And now, after more than twenty years in exile, I can say, if you are born Southern, you are always Southern, even if you marry the wrong person and raise children in a foreign land. But I can also say, that leaving and looking back teaches you so very, very much about who you are and how to appreciate the place that created you. If I had never left, I would never have learned who was hiding inside of me.

Stay tuned for more of the journey. And happy autumn wherever you are.

Fall in San Diego

Southern California autumn

In Tennessee

Tennessee autumn

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