Posts Tagged ‘south’

The Easter Bunnies eyed me from the front door this morning and said they are not ready to come down. Normally on the first of April I would be putting them up, not taking them down. The green shamrock wreaths always rule the month of March. But the calender played a trick this year and stuck Easter on the day before April Fool’s, leaving me with some unhappy leprechauns who didn’t get to come out of their boxes in March.

In my last post, I explained how my neighbor Lenore inspired my monthly door decorating sessions. Her whimsical greenhouse window displays reminded me that each month has something special to celebrate. I also was inspired by my southern roots, particularly the years I lived in Virginia where I first noticed wreaths displayed on doors year round.

California entrance doors don’t seem to need decorations (except at Christmas) because front doors aren’t used. Most Californians enter their homes through the garage. They pull up in their expensive European sedans, hit the garage door opener hidden in the car’s sun visor, and vanish into the depths never to be seen again. Or at least, never to be seen until the next time the garage door goes up, and they pull out once again in their expensive European sedans. (At Four-Way Stop Intersections in California, the first car to go is not the first one that stopped; it’s the most expensive. Heaven help the Mercedes driver who encounters a Lamborghini.)

When I first came to California in the mid 1980’s, I noticed that the houses here don’t look out on the street the way houses do back east. Where I grew up, and throughout the South, houses have front windows that seem to look outward like eyes. And backyards don’t have fences; or if they do, they have the chainlink ones that let you see into the yard next door. But in California, houses more often look inward toward a pool or courtyard. And people here put high wooden fences around their yards, so you know you have a neighbor, but you cannot see hide nor hair of him or her. I came to wonder if this modern-day residential phenomenon could be attributed to the history of California because people from back east arrived to live on isolated ranches and to fend for themselves. When they urbanized, they continued to keep their neighbors out of sight as much as possible.

At any rate, I am a cultural anomaly here because I both use and decorate my front doors. (Yes, I have not one, but two. And I saved them from the vicious Homeowner’s Association over a a year ago and vanquished a male chauvinist bully on Yelp while I was at it. But that is yet another story.)

To keep the peace, I promised the bunnies they could stay until Saturday. Then they have to go back to their boxes until next year.

Can't It Stay Easter for a While?

Can’t It Stay Easter for a While?

Cheeky Bunnies

Cheeky Bunnies

I refuse to leave:  squatter's rights.

I refuse to leave: squatter’s rights.

Cheeky Bunnies Demanded Their Close-Up

Cheeky Bunnies Demanded Their Close-Up

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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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