Just returned from a brisk walk around the neighborhood and up along the edge of Knight Park. I’m so in love with fall this year. I can’t get enough of the leaves, the smell of vegetative decay, the feeling that everything is slowly, gracefully letting go of life and curling up for the winter. The crickets are fewer every day, their song is weaker. Quiet is descending. All I heard on my walk was the crunch of leaves underfoot. In my garden the tomato plants are oblivious, putting out yellow flowers and even two small tomatoes, but they are the exception. If it were socially acceptable I would just stand on the street corner and gawk at the leaves. It bothers me that I don’t know the names of all the trees. What is this one where about half of the leaves are bright yellow, and half are still bright green? What about this bush with the scarlet leaves, that seems to grow everywhere? There’s a tree that I pass every day on the way to pick up my son from school that has gigantic, bigger-than-your-head leaves that are turning a dusky yellow, and seed pods that look like long thin green cigars. There’s something primitive-looking about it that I love. (I want to say it’s the plane tree, the famous Tree that Grows in Brooklyn, but I’m not positive.)
For me, fall, out of all the seasons, is the most evocative of childhood. First there’s September and the start of school: sixteen straight Septembers of dread and excitement mixed. Few other events loom so large on the child’s calendar. Right behind it: Halloween. I had a running debate in my mind when I was younger over which was better, Halloween or Christmas, and for a few years there I think I would have said Halloween. The thrill of getting to not be yourself for a day. Knocking on strange doors, having an excuse to peer into the homes of strangers. And the wonderful bizarreness of being given permission to seek out candy, as much as you could possibly collect, the more the better.
Walking these small-town sidewalks in fall, and trick or treating with my kids, just brings me immediately back to me, age 7, 8, 9, witch, gypsy, vampire, running up a walkway to a house in my costume, a gray afternoon, light fading. It’s right there, it’s like it’s happening again.
Now it’s November and the gaiety of October is settling down, dissipating. November is more somber. Thanksgiving is more serious, nothing like the bacchanal of Halloween. The cold is starting to be no joke and the air smells like burning wood. More time spent inside than outside. When I walk the streets I’m attracted to the stately Colonials and the picturesque arts and crafts bungalows, all tastefully decorated with corn husks and gourds. Anyplace where it’s easy to imagine a storybook grandmother lifting a perfect turkey from the oven, where they are passing around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.
I can’t say that Thanksgiving stands out in my childhood memories. As with today’s retailers, I bypassed Thanksgiving and headed straight for Christmas, “that red-green ball whose glow could be seen, however dimly, anytime of the year” (to quote, inexactly, The Last Catholic in America).
But as an adult, Thanksgiving is looming large. All the investigation I’ve been doing this past year into the perfect convergence of food and homespun life and family: isn’t Thanksgiving the epitome of that?
No pressure, Croce…