Without a doubt, fall is my favorite season of the year. In the south, the summers are too hot, the winters are surprisingly cold, and spring loses itself in the mix. But fall is this burst of color that saunters in after the sweltering heat of summer to usher in the holiday season.
Every year when I was growing up, I actually looked forward to going back to school. I think that in August and September, there was some order to things in my house. Lists had to be made, school supplies had to be purchased, and there was usually a shopping trip to buy new clothes for the next school year. It seemed to me to be more of a beginning of things than any other time of the year. As a ten year old, January 1st had little meaning to me, except that I often slept over at a friend’s house so we could stay up late to watch the ball drop. But, it never had any meaning, it was just another day.
I remember always thinking as the first day of school approached that this year would be different, better. I would feel more popular, more accepted. I often associated these possibilities with the clothes I wore (or styles I didn’t have), my hairstyle, and the notebooks I carried. I was so worried about fitting in. I think of all the superficial things I thought mattered, and in truth they did. At least to middle schoolers and teenagers, looks were important.
But, there was always this feeling of hope going into the fall season. Feeling that first bit of a chill in the air meant new, good things were possible. The need for order in my house extended past planning for school, quickly folding into planning for my birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas. The structure needed to coordinate events or trips to see my family in Kentucky made the house less quiet, and took the focus off of things that were so glaringly wrong.
It was easier then to pretend that we were just like every other family, preparing to enjoy the food and festivities of the upcoming holidays. In what always became a bittersweet mix of hope and disappointment, the holidays were at least busy times. After the new year, things became quiet in my house, too quiet. There were incredibly angry outbursts at times, but for the most part, there was a lot of silence. Uncomfortable silence. As if there was nothing approaching to help us pretend things were normal, and no one knew what to do with the free time.
I have only recently realized that I associate winter with quiet, and more than that, restlessness. It never ceases to amaze me how we truly learn what we live, and how hard those patterns are to change. The holidays are often difficult for me, as I don’t have anything close to what I consider “normal” in my life right now as far as a family of my own or the typical life. But, I have learned to make new traditions for myself, on my own, not trying to pretend things are anything other than what they are, and it has been liberating.
Today, I drove by a pumpkin patch, watching families search through the field of orange, walking in zig zag patterns, calling out to one another to inspect the latest find. There have been times when scenes like that have made me sad, reminding me of what I don’t have. But, today, I was caught up in the spirit of hope in this new season, the chill in the air, and age-old traditions. I pulled over, parked my car, and joined all the other families stepping over pumpkins, searching row by row for the right one. And as I paid for my choice, I was so glad I had chosen to participate instead of drive by, and happy to head home with a perfect piece of fall to place on my doorstep.