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Let's pay attention; it's fall
child in leaves

Jim Croce wanted time in a bottle. I’d settle for weather. This weather.

The moon — a capital D with the middle filled in — is already high in the sky while the sun lingers at the horizon, lazy and languid, making my shadow a good 30 feet long. The air is dry and there is the slightest whisper of a breeze. Banks of yellow asters and goldenrod fall all over themselves and each other to bow and curtsy as I walk past. On this day I am royalty.

The peanuts that grew in long straight lines in the field right outside my kitchen window have been harvested and the ground is flat and gray, littered with brittle vines already turned black. The cotton on the other side of the house will not be far behind. The hydrangea heads I never bothered to cut and bring indoors look like wrinkled faces, their stems skinny bodies standing at attention.

Autumn, it would appear, has arrived.

When I was a child, the season manifested itself in the purchase of new school shoes. I began each year at Mattie Lively Elementary School wearing the white Keds that had been bought in the spring, but a month or so in, about the time the construction paper on the bulletin boards turned orange and gold and brown, Mama and I drove downtown to find saddle oxfords. And knee socks. And, maybe, depending upon how much I’d grown, new Buster Brown turtlenecks.

It is, I guess, developmentally normal at that age to process the change of seasons through the selfish lens of new shoes and socks, but — from the vantage point of an adult who cannot prevent herself from occasionally doing the math and contemplating just how many more autumns I will be allowed to observe — I can’t help being a little wistful. I have an excellent memory for the details of my childhood, but I don’t remember everything. And the fact that I remember so clearly the blue rubber label on the back of my Keds and the tiny holes on the “saddle” part of the oxfords, but remember only one of my Halloween costumes (gypsy, back before it was politically incorrect) is bothersome.

How many piles of leaves did I jump into, run through, toss in the air of which I have no memory because, obviously, I was more concerned with my shoes? Why is the only thing I remember about all those years of fair parades the year my Girl Scout troop marched and I carried the flag? Who was the long-suffering parent who, year after year, led that pony around and around and around that tiny circle at the Halloween festival never once complaining?

Why did it take me so long to learn that fall is full of magic?

I want to open Jim Croce’s bottle and dive into time as it wafts its way into the air of this moment. I want to find that child, that little girl in the saddle oxfords, find her and kneel down in front of her as though in prayer. I want to take her hands and look into the eyes that are my eyes and tell her that shoes will never be important, that labels mean nothing, that the colors of falling leaves cannot be captured in construction paper.

I want to tell her that remembering takes effort, but it is so worth it to be able to call up the smell of burlap, the sound of the chain on the flagpole beating in the wind and the flash of sunlight catching a baton thrown high in the air on the days that are sure to come when you wonder who you are and why you are alive.

I want to tell her, tell myself that the most important thing she will ever do is pay attention.

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