I’m a Midwestern girl.
It took me most of my life to be okay with that. I’m not sure why.
It’s been years since I’ve actually lived east of the Mississippi but you know that old saying about taking someone out of somewhere but never being able to take something out of them? I am no exception. And I’m proud to announce that, in my case that something is not “trailer park” but rather “the essence of fall”.
Where I came from, the change was a gently slide from long days to shorter days and an inexplicable yearning to wear wool. The turning of the trees from green to a fiery brilliance seemed an overnight phenomenon but was extinguished much too quickly by the inevitable shroud of early sunset. This was categorically unfair and downright cruel. I mean, whose idea was it to present this glorious display of natural wonder, this visual extravaganza, this… this…. heartbreaking beauty only to snatch it away and replace it with 3 solid months of Ukrainian-esque landscape? If I ever meet the person responsible, I may have to kick their ass. I suspect it’s the same diabolical mind who invented the notion that only women could give birth but I can’t prove that.
And so it went…. The mesmerizing spectacle of Fall followed by the sucker punch of another Midwestern winter. It’s odd that we never quite figured out that year after year after bone-chilling year was a distinct pattern. But visual euphoria has a way of eliminating long term memory.
And the final blow was abrupt and jarring. One day you’re picking apples from an orchard awash in flaming ochre and the next day we were back in The Land Before Color. Hey dad, put that color sheet back on the T.V. screen so we can pretend Ed Sullivan is orange rather than pasty gray. (Come to think of it, Ed might actually have been pasty gray in person but you catch my drift).
Damn. No more raking leaves into piles and jumping in them. My Halloween candy has been devoured. Get out the hand-me-down wool coat I had to wear even though the sleeves were too short. (I still have issues about sleeve length, by the way)
And here’s the irony. Even those barren trees that pointed their spindly branches at me as if their jealousy was human… were oddly comforting. I would slowly get used to it; even love it in a way. Like Stockholm Syndrome, I had an odd emotional attachment to my captors. And it has never gone away.
Now, I’m a California girl. A dream of a lifetime after coveting the exotic lifestyle laid out before me in episode after episode of the Brady Bunch. I even wanted my parents to be divorced and live the life of that cute Brandon Cruz in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. I grew up craving something…anything….not Midwestern. But as I get older I start to appreciate where I came from; the roots that were lovingly planted for me by parents who didn’t know the meaning of the word transient. They grounded me and for that I’m thankful.
That old saying is spot on. The essence of Midwestern fall can never be taken from me. But it’s changed over the years. Now, the shift is not visible but rather….olfactory. It’s an aroma. The kind that can propel me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. It’s a wisp of wood smoke carried on the wings of a chill air that makes me reach for the comfort of my fleecy sweatshirt.
And I love it.
But don’t tell anyone, okay?