October may be the best of the months
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby that “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Fitzgerald—who was smart enough to marry an Alabamian—was right.
October may be the best of the months. When it arrived this year, we had fall had been here for scarcely a week, but the look and feel of it was everywhere. In spite of—or maybe because of—the odd year we’ve had, this October was particularly welcome.
Summer watermelons are gone, but the best apples of the season have arrived. Sweet potatoes are ready to be baked and then garnished with butter and brown sugar. Fall pears, which I’ve loved since I harvested them fresh from Granny’s backyard tree, add their special tang to the season.
The weather usually shifts. The cool evenings and comfortable days begin to overtake the sweat-soaked oven of summer. We hope for a crisp, cold night, but we settle for chilly. October’s final gift will arrive late. When we go to bed on October 31 we set our clocks back an hour—and we gain an hour’s sleep.
Fall colors arrive in cascading waves of increasingly bright colors. It all begins in late summer when tall poplar trees begin to shed their broad bright-yellow leaves. Foraging squirrels eat pine nuts out of pine cones, and then drop the corn-cob-like remnants onto a forest floor made soft from the spun-off rain from hurricanes spawned on distant waters.
Sweet gums begin shedding both leaves and sweet gum balls, which are said to make a good tea. Yellowing muscadine vines with their sweet fruit drop down from trees scattered along the roadside. Pecan trees are heavy with pecan nuts, without which Christmas desert tables would not have fully-decorated red velvet cakes. Black gum trees fill the woods with a deep red, big leaf magnolias look like ripe bananas, and finally, sugar maples complete the symphony of color with their candy cane reds, lemon yellows, and deep oranges. I love to watch single trees. As their leaves turn and fall, they circle a skirt around the tree, giving us not only wonderful colors but a geometric pattern. The colors of October are always a wonder.
The second Monday in the month is set aside for us to celebrate the birth of Christopher Columbus, the Italian who we have been taught sailed the ocean blue in 1492 only to find America for Europeans.
We’ve now learned that he may not have been the first European on American shores, but what of it. Those woke, politically correct among us (meaning those who re-write history to their own ends) have worked tirelessly to erode his name and his accomplishments, but we try to pay them no mind and enjoy the day anyway.
October means that college football is running full throttle. Fans of each team have staked their positions and fill the internet with what used to be called water cooler talk. We endlessly debated which team should be national champions, which coach should be fired, which player should win the Heisman trophy, not because we have clear answers to any of these questions, but because we enjoy the talk. It is an artificial us-against-them world that we construct (mostly) for fun.
October hosts the World Series. I’ve watched the World Series ever since I pulled for Al Kaline and the Detroit Tigers to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968. Spoiler alert: the Tigers won in seven games. This year the Braves came this close to making an appearance, and would have had the Dodgers not pulled a once-in-a-lifetime comeback. Just wait till next year. The World Series brings us the end of a sports season, and, in the best tradition of American optimism, it gives us the next one to look forward to.
We don’t vote for president in October, but every four years presidential debates are mostly held in that month. Political ads drop around us faster than oak leaves. The form of the national ads never change, and local elections have gotten foolishly bitter. When did we lose the ability to say “I disagree” without attempting to destroy the other side. This is entirely shameful. The elections arrive just after October leaves, and I will be glad for their passing.
The month ends with Halloween. I attended Huguley Elementary School, and was taught by women who taught successive generations of children sent to them to be educated. Discipline was allowed. Homework was done. Respect was shown. And we learned.
But every October, just as we’d gotten back into the swing of things at school, we had a Halloween carnival. The games were things we’d likely consider cheesy now, but they were fun for children who had—at most—three channels on their television and for whom the internet was not even a faint science fiction dream.
The cake walks were the highlight of the evening, and nothing was better than taking home the cake that your neighbor was famous for baking.
Prose is insufficient to describe the October country, and its failure makes us turn to poetry. Poetry is like tears: it allows us to express things that are otherwise inexpressible. British poet Humbert Wolfe spoke for all of us when he wrote: “Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
October 31 is not only Halloween, not only the end of daylight savings time, but it comes with a blue moon. That’s a lot for one night, but I suspect it will be up to the task.
2020 has been—we hope and pray—a once-in-a-blue-moon year.
Here is a prayer that our 2020 problems meet with an early sunset at the end of this month.