I love this time of year. I always have, even when it meant summer was over and school was starting. Or maybe it was because summer was over and school was starting. Summer in D.C. is hideous. 90-100 degrees, with 95% humidity. The city feels like a swamp, possibly because it was built on a swamp. (Part of Thomas Jefferson’s master plan to keep the central government from governing as much a possible. Pre-Presidential Jefferson would be considered a Libertarian by today’s standards.)
Siblings compounded summer’s sweltering misery. In June and July, we spent three hours daily at swim practice. We were too tired to do anything but lie around reading afterwards. Swimming ended in August. By then we’d built up our stamina. We had oodles of energy to spare and we were bored.
We used our endless energy in the most constructive way possible, of course – tormenting the crap out of each other. Beds were short-sheeted. Cellophane coated toilet seats. Vaseline coated hair brushes. Fake spiders appeared. Fake phone calls from crushes were made. We swung on chandeliers, ripped the staircase bannister out several times, and dug giant holes in the backyard. In retrospect, it’s amazing we all survived.
Autumn meant cooling weather, football, and escape from siblings. It also brought all the potential of the new school year. New clothes. Old friends. New friends, and hopefully new boyfriends, because my sisters and I had probably dated most of the boys on campus last year.
Along with glorious leaves, autumn marks the beginning of holiday season.
First there’s Halloween. As a kid, there was nothing better than getting and eating as much free candy as you wanted. (And I wanted a lot.) As a teenager and a twenty-something, costumes were a socially acceptable place let out my inner slut. And now? October is the only month I can buy five giant bags of snack-sized chocolate bars without anyone snickering.
Halloween is followed by Thanksgiving – more food! Vacation days! – and then Christmas (even more food, even more vacation days, and PRESENTS). Seriously, autumn through New Year’s is the best time of the year.
I live in Southern California now. We don’t exactly have seasons. We have weather forecasts.
July-January: Sunny/ dry.
February: Torrential rain if we’re lucky. Intermittent sky spit if we’re not.
March-May: Sunny/ dry.
June: Heavy cloud cover/ fog, especially at the beach. This is known locally as “June Gloom” as it bums out all the would-be beach goers from the Valley who never check the weather reports and brave hours of LA traffic only to find a chilly, foggy beach at the end of their trip.
But even though I’m in Southern California, where October is now our hottest month on record, I still feel like October should be fall.
Which is why Andy came home from work after we were married and found me hauling a box up two flights of stairs from the garage. And sweating, of course, because it was 80+ degrees.
“Oh, God. It’s not more damned wedding china, is it?” Andy didn’t understand the need for fourteen place settings. (He would learn.)
I grinned at him. “No! It’s fall stuff!”
Andy responded with a blank look.
I tried again. “You know, harvest-themed tablecloths? Wind chimes in the shape of leaves? And some really clever fake fall leaves made out of fabric that Boyfriend Stealing Baby Sister #1 sent me last year. Plus this adorable lamp with maple leaves from JM’s mom –”
Andy interrupted. “What is in your ears!?”
I beamed and fingered the maple leaf that some enterprising New Englander had laminated into immortality, hung on a wire, and sold for a massive profit. “Aren’t they cute? Ex-Stepmother sent them to me, along with some real leaves from her trees in New Hampshire!”
Andy asked, “We’re not, uh, going out tonight or anything, are we?”
“What? You don’t like them?”
“I thought they were angry starfish. And why are you putting out fall stuff anyway? It’s still 80 degrees.”
“Go turn up the air conditioning and let me pretend.”
Andy shrugged and lowered the temperature by one degree. As he made dinner, I swapped out tablecloths, arranged centerpieces, and yammered on about how much I missed apple-picking.
Andy interrupted. “So you had to pick your own apples?”
Me: “Well, you could buy whole boxes that were already picked –”
Andy: “Did they cost the same?”
Me: “Well, yeah, it was all by the pound and the type of apple.”
Andy snorted. “Sounds like a scam. You pick your own apples and they charge you?!”
I glared. “Stop wrecking my memories. They had McIntosh apples, which are so good, and real cider, the kind that isn’t pasteurized, and so it gets bubbly and delicious.”
Andy: “Didn’t they stop making that because people got ebola?”
Me: “It was e coli and you don’t get it if they use good apples. And clearly, you don’t think of this fall stuff is cool.”
Andy shrugged. “I grew up in Hawaii, honey. One season. Hot and muggy.”
Me: “But didn’t you love New Hampshire? In the fall? When we got married?”
Andy: “The trees were soothing.”
It was my turn to snort. “If the trees were soothing while your mother was haranguing the crap out of you for daring to hyphenate your name, you gotta admit that New Hampshire in the autumn has a special kind of magic.”
“But we’re not in New Hampshire. We’re in the hottest month in California, and it’s like you’re turning into one of the pumpkin spice freaks that are clogging up Starbucks.” Andy likes his coffee strong and black. He finds anything else ridiculous.
I sealed up the empty box in a huff. “So one box of fall decorations makes me a freak?” (Uh-oh. Wait until he saw how many boxes of Christmas stuff I had.)
Andy realized he’d gone too far and offered to carry the box down to the garage. I declined. “You’ll probably drop it. On purpose.”
“No, I wouldn’t. It’s empty now, right?”
I put my box away. I spent the next week or two trying not to let Andy’s anti-autumn sentiments bother me.
But he had a point. The Santa Ana winds blew, hot and dry, driving the temperature up to the 90’s. The gorgeous beach weather made all mockery of my fall decorations. I felt like I had joined the ranks of pumpkin spice people; I was in love with a manufactured product so far removed from its autumnal origins that it was a joke. Maybe I was a joke. Certainly autumn in Southern California was the biggest joke of all.
Andy, who does the cooking, hits Costco and the Farmer’s Market in Torrance every Saturday morning. It’s my idea of hell, but he likes it. When he pulled into the garage around midday, I went to help him unload.
He shooed me away. “I got it.”
I went back to writing. A few minutes later, Andy appeared with a plate of cut up apples and handed me one. “Ha’s Apple Farm was back.”
I took a bite. Jumped up, danced, a little, and hugged Andy. “It’s a McIntosh! They’ve NEVER had a McIntosh! I thought they only grew up north!”
I ate the entire plate. But Andy wasn’t done yet. At dinner, he offered me a glass of unpasteurized apple cider, also from Ha’s Apple Farm. (He also told me how much it cost. Almost as much as his favorite bourbon. For a quart. In New Hampshire, you can get a jug for a few bucks.)
As I savored my apple cider, I noticed that Andy had a new kind of beer. One with a PUMPKIN on the label.
Andy flushed. He flushed even harder when I opened the “overflow” fridge in the garage and found two shelves stuffed with various autumn lagers.
“It’s just because they were on sale at Costco, honey!” he insisted.
No wonder he wouldn’t let me help him unload.
Ha’s Apple Farm only has one McIntosh tree, and the Macs were gone by the by the next weekend. So was the cider. And that was okay. Seasons are supposed to be fleeting, after all.
But for one week at the end of October, I tasted fall again.