But Autumn Offers the Promise of More
These late summer days before the plunge into fall
become an interlude infused with hushed expectation. Though heat
lingers, smells begin to change, the texture of the air lightens.
The Earth, though parched for weeks without rain, is rousing now,
as it always does, for a quickened tempo, brisk and lively. For
me, this time signals the beginning of a New Year and I always await
it with heightened anticipation, with thoughts of cozy dinners with
friends, upcoming plays, fall walks on the canal and resolutions
to read George Sand, to figure out the art and music of today, and
start a new book, brilliant and funny, of course. I'm sure I will
do all this. Certainly I will.
Growing up as I did in a small town in Texas, the
nutty smell of the cotton gin heralded this pause for me. Other
smells rushed in: the mingling odors of pristine white notebook
paper, the gum on the back of reinforcements, the unmistakable pungency
of a new box of crayons or metal scissors. Smells came from the
pages of the shiny Sears and Roebuck catalog, on the leather of
loafers and the dark cotton of our dresses. We were lucky if we
could wear corduroy by October. Even though the temperature could
easily remain in the 90s through most of September, white everything
was put away, and dark cottons with sleeves and higher necklines
As I got older, these smells beckoned larger hopes
and possibilities, and sometimes new loves. A school course could
reveal an answer to some mystery in life that might excite or comfort
and console. The new semester could open up a fresh world, and by
extension, a new me. Or a new me might just materialize from nothing
more than my summer tan and dark cotton dress and from all the characters
I'd become during my summer reading. How well I remember the new
cleverer, braver, kinder and more tragic me I tried to fashion from
Becky Sharp and Nancy Drew and Emma Bovary -- though I'm not sure
anyone else recognized this as a new me.
Those last days of summer prepared me for a new order.
They still do. They still give me time to envision a more organized,
efficient person, who writes faster, procrastinates less, makes
fewer plans. Just ahead lies a plethora of ideas for books and articles,
along with energy and time to carry them out -- and the belief that
I will discover the secret of how to balance time.
Those closing summers of my youth promised pep rallies
just ahead, bonfires, dances and football games. As for football,
I hadn't a clue about what was happening, being too blind to see
far without glasses and too vain to wear them and too uninterested
to learn the rules. But I did love to march in the band, my French
horn blaring um-duhs, and to yell with the crowd when our side scored.
Not that losing summer didn't make me sad. To this
day I miss the fading of honeysuckle's perfume and of the feisty
golds and reds and purples of heat-loving flowers; the stilling
of the cicada's hum and the cricket's chirp; the withering of evening
light and the leisure to watch the moon make its arc across the
sky. I still miss the opportunity to bite into a hard, slightly
bitter plum. I hate saying goodbye to fresh peach ice cream and
corn on the cob. Ice cream, I know, is seasonless, but at this time
of year I stop wanting it.
Inevitably, summers disappoint more than they used
to. Mine stay scrambled with too many projects, too many plans,
and much the same pressures that take up the rest of the year. Almost
every fall I come to regret that I didn't steal more hours to read
books word by word to capture the beauty of their language. All
too seldom do I breathe in contentment and say, "Yes, this
But I have never lost my delight in the last of summer's
days. I am addicted to the idea of new beginnings. Worlds still
waiting to be explored. I thumb through fashion magazines in the
grocery line and think, "Surely, surely there is a new look
for me lurking somewhere in the maze of outrageous garments."
Not that I've never tried outrageous before.
None of this means my New Year keeps its promise.
The pain of last September will linger with us all for a long, long
time to come. And I've had my own terrible beginnings and will have
more and more.
Yet I choose to believe in this late summertime yielding
up its riches. I've been lucky enough to know they can. On one fine
Labor Day 43 years ago I met the man I would marry, and the course
of my life changed in ways I never would have imagined. At other
times, I've heard from friends lost to me or finished a manuscript.
So, I've made my resolutions, have scanned those fashion pages,
and will store my white clothes, my white shoes. I anticipate some
fabulous development just hovering, I'm sure, around the corner.
While knowing the pitfalls, knowing life most often changes in imperceptible
increments and not necessarily for the better, I stand giddy in
this late summer's pause. I am sure I get a whiff of the cotton