COLUMN: Golden Days of Autumn all too short

Autumn was my mother’s favorite season. She saw the beauty in the mellow light and the changing leaves. She loved the golden days with clear blue skies and the cooler nights. She liked the way the pace quickened after the long, slow days of summer.

By Rebecca Johnston

Rebecca Johnston (web)Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we lived in a world without air conditioning. I know that seems almost unbelievable now, but no one in Canton I knew even thought it was a necessary part of life. 

Instead, we opened our windows or sat on the porch, feeling the changes each season brought. During the late spring and summer we slept with our windows wide at night to feel the cool breezes and hear the katydids sing. As I fell asleep with my curtains pushed back, I could see a thousand stars above the treetops outside my window.

The Georgia heat could be oppressive in the summer, the humidity weighing down the air and making it seem even hotter than it really was. Fall made a welcome change.

While I loved the freedom of summer, I welcomed the fall of the year, crisp apples and crisper temperatures. Nights when it felt good to pull a quilt up, days when you could walk forever, jumping through leaves and admiring the brilliance of the fall foliage, the golden rod and the sumac turning bright red.

Of course, the fall of the year also meant back to school, a return to tasks and responsibilities, to getting up earlier and working harder. But somehow we never seemed to mind. It was part of the ebb and flow of life.

Some afternoons after school, my mother would walk with us out through the woods to a massive muscadine vine that grew on the site where a house had once stood. There were apple trees there too, stunted and old, no longer able to produce many apples, but marking an old home place with their rooted presence.

My brother and sister and I loved to eat the ripe fruit as we picked them, while Mother gathered up a basket full to take back and make into jelly. Then we would walk slowly back home, as leaves drifted onto the dirt road and sunlight streamed through the golden foliage.

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”

I think as we walked through the woods, my mother must have felt a bit of what John Donne did when he wrote those words.

My mother loved poetry. Almost every year she would give me a book of poems, either an anthology or by a single poet. She wrote an inscription on the fly leaf in her neat, perfect handwriting to mark the gift and I cherish those books. I love to read the poems about autumn in particular.

Autumn is the shortest season of the year, especially in the South, as summer’s warmth lingers way past the calendar’s time for fall.

There is a sad side to autumn, too, as everything dies away and nature prepares for winter.

Just like in life, autumn signals a change.

I like to think of the autumn as the time to harvest that which we have planted in life.

Time to enjoy our children and our grandchildren, our families and friends.

You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast.”

My mother was not a talker. She did not often express her feelings. She would let us know through her actions, her care of us.

When I remember those autumn walks, I know that she was sharing with us what she loved most about life.

This is a great time of year to enjoy the beauty of the rural countryside in north Cherokee County, to canoe down the Etowah River or visit the parks and trails that now dot our community. Farmers markets are filled to the brim with offerings, and festivals abound to make a Saturday afternoon a time to enjoy with family.

We are lucky to live where the metro meets the mountains. I hope you take time to make memories with your family during this all too brief but beautiful time of year.

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