The dreaded weekend has come. The end of summer. A cacophony (strictly speaking a ‘murder’) of crows announced it this morning.
Oh, sure, we can assure ourselves that September can be the best of summer still, but that’s bravado, positive thinking gone rogue. Realistically, we know the light is failing. Vegetable gardens started telling us that weeks ago. Here at least, at 43.7° N. where the squash and cucumber vines have died back and the tomatoes are refusing to ripen. I can no longer count on light at 6 a.m. and the evening moves faster into night.
There were more swallows than ever sweeping across the sky two evenings ago, as they fatten up to cross the big lake and leave these shores. This evening, they may be gone. And it doesn’t help that I know they will come back to Capistrano on March 19th next year. It’s at 33° N and the swallows take another 40 days to get here.
Autumnal, that’s the word. ‘An early autumn walks the land/ And chills the breeze/And touches with her hand/The summer trees….’ etc. ( Courtesy Johnny Mercer) I would say it is all the more affecting because I am in the autumn of my life, but that would be false. The autumn of my life, I glimpse only in the rear view mirror. While I sometimes question how many more springs there are left, I never ask how many falls.
This weekend, the skies above are rent by low flying fighter jets, as the annual air show gets underway. While there are those who love the thrill of a group of jets roaring just above rooftop, I am not one of them, although I admit there is no need for coffee and the pumping adrenaline more than offsets the weary wintery-ness of age.
In the spirit of the occasion, let us consider Labour Day weekends past. Here in at 43.7° N., school begins on the Tuesday after Labour Day now as it did over 70 years ago when I started. My mother and I had planned that I would wear my sailor dress, light blue with a navy blue sailor’s collar and a narrow red stripe, and she would walk with me, holding my hand and teach me how to cross the street in our little town. The best laid plans and all that. Turned out my mother was far away in a maternity ward of the hospital that morning when I woke up. I was outraged. How could she? I was fed breakfast by my cousin next door and towed unwillingly to school by the grade 3-er across the street. Very early indeed, in case her friends saw her with my lowly grade 1-self, sailor dress or not.
The upside of this was that every Labour Day thereafter I got to celebrate my sister’s birthday. In addition, my mother’s betrayal led me to bond with Miss Graham, my teacher, to such an extent that I continued returning to school for the next 50 years, as student and teacher.
The year that I gave that up going back to school the day after Labour Day was so traumatic that I could deal with it only by setting out to drive across the continent to Los Angeles. Crossing the border in my heavy laden Tercel I was knocked sideways by the American border guard. (Metaphorically that is.) He was worried about whether I had green apples and where my ex-husband was at the moment. No and don’t know. He successfully banished all first-day-of-school nostalgia quite out of my head.
Driving across the continent by yourself takes a while, the sun streaming in through the driver’s side window, day after day. Mind boggled by the wide rivers and the deep canyons and the endless oppressive desert. Terrified of falling asleep at the wheel, of taking a wrong turn on a freeway. My expensive car phone without service most of the time. Then just so tired, I had to hole up and sleep in a well air-conditioned ‘better’ motel where the furniture wasn’t bolted to the floor. When I finally emerged and drove down off the Santa Monica Freeway to glimpse the Pacific, I had left my school self behind. But what did I discover in my daughter’s house? No not green apples! My ex-husband! Just what the border guard feared. A reconstitution of a family separated for 15 years for the purpose of defrauding the U.S. government. Somehow.
This year, I have other plans. My sister and I are going to return to the mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships where we were born. Her birthday treat. Not that there is family there any more. Well, maybe one. Eighty eight he’d be, if still extant. And the old house we loved isn’t tidy and white any more. The barn is just a heap, a mound of earth where the ramp to the haymow was. My grandfather’s fields, cleared with such killing effort, have been put back to trees. Unbelievably, actually planted with trees! You can barely see our slope-shouldered mountain for the woods. Nevertheless, we will drive the gravel roads and breathe the spruce air and feel our native earth beneath our feet.
And these two one-upon-a-time teachers will take solace in an excellent hotel on Lake Massawippi where the furniture is definitely not bolted to the floor.