Notta Louden and Autumn

Notta and Autumn

The calendar, the planetary alignments all say it is autumn outside. School has started again in the public system. My Adult Ed program is seeing new students as well, now that their children are “back in school” (an curious expression, considering what the unqualified government hair-splitters have done to public education these days). Fall décor and Halloween “must haves” don’t really feel out of place now, although they went on sale everywhere around the 4th of July, right next to the early displays of Christmas trees and lights. The jackets and scarves have come out of the closet; but, so far, most wear them over the arm, for a “just in case” that has yet to come. And the impulse to break down and plow under the summer’s garden is strong. Except that the heat might afford one more go of tomatoes and squash.

The branches of the red maple tree in my front yard have finally stopped looking like an upside down green skirt with droopy red polka dots. The leaves are still curling and listless – we’ve have five minutes of rain in the last six weeks – but they are mostly red. The Burning Bush shrubs down the street have yet to make up their minds about turning the startling scarlet that they are named for or simply drying up and dropping off. There are hints of gold and orange along the highway I travel each day to class; but there seems more green among it all, as of those trees and bushes stubbornly hang onto their summer garb until the temperatures come down out of the nineties. In late September.

Those of us who are not fans of summer and tank tops and hot pants or jean shorts shredded until they may as well be hot pants, flip-flops, and the rest of the barely-there garb that costs more than a good sweater and maxi skirt, wait for autumn and the chance of venturing outside once again without puddling in our own sweat. Or nearly passing out after three hours’ gardening in rock hard soil because it’s 96 degrees with 80% humidity for the fourth day in a row.

I’ve done both this year. True, the spring and August were wet and strangely cool, but Summer had its say again and to this day shows only a little inclination towards giving in to fall weather, to cooler days and colorful leaves and the hints of frost in the morning. You know, to what is “normal.”

I mentioned the disconnect between the date and the weather to Notta this week. She humphed. “You’re still looking for normal? They don’t even put that word on dryers anymore.”

“This heat and seesaw weather is simply not what I remember autumn being when I was young. I don’t even remember this craziness when I was our students here’s age.”

Notta set down her Whole Foods Bag – extra heavy that day because she was donating books to a Library Sale downtown. “Like you remember? You have a video tape of then?”

“Hardly,” I agreed. “Polaroids and 8mm family movies were the high tech back then. Somebody always had the latest model for important family events, but it wasn’t something you used every day.”

“Not like today when people are taking pictures of any and every part of their body in any and every condition,” Notta agreed.

“Standing around sweating wasn’t considered appropriate for our recorded history.” I was not going to get into a discussion of selfies and crotch shots.

“Even if that’s all those folks posing at July 4th family reunions and seaside picnics were doing,” Notta said.

I sighed. “I remember school starting the day after Labor Day and needing a sweater until October’s false summer was over and it was time to get out the winter coats and boots.”

Notta rifled through the Social Studies lesson for that day: political cartoons. One of them made her laugh; another drew a disgusted sigh. “I suppose you always expected a white Christmas, too.”

“I did like to see frost and maybe some snow against the window when we set up the Hanukkiah,” I said. “But, yes, all the songs and TV shows and displays and whatnot that went up after Thanksgiving – “

“And not before,” Notta put in.

“They all talked about white Christmases and snowy holidays when my parents and grandparents were young.”

“And it seemed like something threw the whole world out of order if there wasn’t snow on the ground come December.” Notta sighed almost as heavily as I did. “Boy, did we get sold a bill of goods.”

She shrugged. “What else are we doing today?”

I showed her my sketched-out lesson plan.

“You need copies of those cartoons?” I nodded. She paused at the door. “You know, I’m not saying our parents didn’t mess the world up with burning coal and leaded gasoline and wood fires. I’m not saying we didn’t mess it up even more with aerosols and who knows what poisons those monsters came up with under the slogan of ‘better living through chemistry.’ And who knows? Maybe these kids will mess things up even more. Or maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll help us clean up the mess, or maybe it’s too late. I don’t know. The scientists know, but I don’t. I do what they tell me that I can understand, like recycling and not wasting food and using biodegradable stuff when I can get it. But my three kids are born and in the world and the price of electric cars is out of my retired age, so there you go.”

“I hear you, “I said. “I’m in about the same situation.”

Notta’s warm chocolate eyes stared out into the hall. “There’s some woods in back of my house,” she said. “I watch the animals. The squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs. Heck, even a skunk or two. And the caterpillars in my garden. They know when it’s spring and time to get busy. When it’s summer and time to be a pain in my garden. And they know when it’s autumn and time to grow thicker fur or do whatever they do for the cold months. They just know. And they do it every year.

“I think people used to be like that. That inside sense of the year’s rhythm. What we needed to do about it.” She shook her head. “Then some man decided we just had to have everything he thought we wanted all day, every day, 365 days a year.”

“Some man?” I asked.

Notta shrugged again. “Had to be a man. Women have more patience. We also have more to do to help men survive. And there are way too many women who can’t make up their minds until a man tells them what to think.”

“I think we’re straying into women’s rights,” I said.

She laughed. “Maybe even the Bible, if it comes to that.

“What I mean to say is, you telling me how you remember autumn when you were younger is like a symptom. A memory that went back to whenever men like Carnegie and Vanderbilt and Rockefeller started us on the industrial course that we’re living with today. We let these men make a boatload of money messing with the rhythms. Now we’re paying for it. Not just money, either, even if the greedies that followed them aren’t any better if not a whole lot worse. Autumn isn’t autumn any more. God knows real winter weather only comes once every few years.

“And yet, every September, we expect it: the cooler weather, the bright colors, the smells of leaves in piles, kids yelling and jumping in those piles, all that. It’s a symptom, telling us some things are not right in our world. It’s like we know something has to change. You know what I mean?”

I knew.

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