In the fall, in the South, time stands still. In the South, in what we call fall, dust settles on the roads, climbs onto forgotten porch swings, drifts through open windows to curl on tabletops. In the evenings, the cicadas thrum the air and in the mornings the shelled bugs kick, flat on their backs, dying. The lazy days bleed yellow while the last of the tomatoes slowly rots on the vine. Stepped-on grass bends double and cannot raise its tired head.
We gather ourselves from our inertia and hit the malls. Feet that ran bare all summer squirm into penny loafers and Sunday patent leathers and tennis shoes with red flashing lights. Parents study the flimsy tops that don’t cover the bellybutton and remember when “Back To School” meant $10 dresses from Sears. In our day, notebooks were black and white, speckled and sensible, not fluorescent pink. Back then, when learning was a serious business, plastic change purses squeezed to show lunch money’s nickels and dimes, and paper towels weren’t considered a school supply. In those days, all the world lay ahead of us, burrowed inside a new school year.
Back in the quietness of our houses, we deflate beach balls, stow away rafts. We tell ourselves we’ll clean everything good on Saturday so it won’t mold in the basement dark. But by Saturday we’re checking football schedules, ready for the boys to enter the field. Ready, too, for picnic baskets that tote deviled eggs and ham biscuits and chilled white wine and sterling silver forks because who wants to eat with cheap plastic?
But Saturday is a ways away and in the meantime, we’re left restless. Too early to plant the mums, too late to do anything about the curling leaves of the Vinca. We wander the house, and in that crack in time that opens in the fall in the South, we long for clean coloring books that allowed our imagination to dream an orange bird with a sky blue beak and a red tree with polka-dotted leaves. We long for fresh notebook paper that smelled as delicious as the wrapper of an ice cream sandwich. For sidewalks that safely guided us, and plaid dresses that billowed in the morning breeze, and fallen leaves that rotted and reminded us that even though summer had been snatched from our grasp, Halloween would arrive and oh, lord, what creature would we be this year?
When we’ve gotten old and rickety in our ways, we ache for the time when life began anew just because a page had been ripped from the calendar and now the date said September. We can as our days have added upon themselves no longer see the easy way to winter, and we tumble through the hiatus in time that opens in the Southern fall, and there we spin, free-falling into the past.
(This essay first aired on WKNO-FM in Memphis, and I believe I’ve posted it here before. But each fall rolls around, and I want to read it again. It may become an annual thing. 🙂 )