One deep breath of the outdoor air yesterday and suddenly I was in another time and another place.
I must have been about twelve. I was gangly and awkward, the target of a very unpleasant nickname bestowed upon me by a few boys in my class at school who had no mercy for a gap-toothed, four-eyed girl who was smarter than them but not pretty or cool or even respectably athletic. School couldn’t last the whole day, though, and four o’clock found me wearing my plaid CPO jacket, walking up the path in the field beside the house where I grew up, in the hills of southeastern Ohio.
The late afternoon sun gave everything that warm tint of early autumn, and I could smell the sweet mustiness of the dying grasses and weeds that swished around my legs and crunched beneath my feet. The wild asters and goldenrod were in full bloom. The sumac trees were beginning to turn, their clusters of fuzzy red berries saluting the sky, but I avoided them because someone once told me they were poison, and I didn’t want to itch the way I did when I got into the poison ivy. It would be years before I found out those trees were harmless.
I skirted the chaotic tumble of thorny wild raspberry and blackberry vines, only to find that I’d somehow brushed against a sticktight weed and was now covered in those maddening little triangle-shaped stickers. I stopped and picked them off, knowing I’d almost certainly be covered in more within minutes.
I soon came to my favorite part of the field: the milkweed patch. By now the milkweed pods were brown and beginning to open. I grabbed one and pried it further open. The parachutes of the packed seeds felt like silk under my fingers. I pulled some out and blew on them. They weren’t yet ready to fly, so they mostly sputtered to the ground, unlike another nearby plant whose pods had fully opened and were spilling out parachutes with each passing breeze. I didn’t care if they were weeds; they were beautiful, and I loved to watch them waltz through the air as they blew across the field. I felt the drowsy sun on my face, and the inside of my chest swelled with the delicious sadness that is autumn.
And then suddenly I was back in the here and now.
I no longer suffer from the awkwardness of prepubescence, gapped teeth, or thick glasses. It’s been at least 35 years since I last wore a CPO jacket. The boys who were most merciless in their teasing have been dead for years. Some folks might say that’s karma, but I know it’s really because they lived hard to drown out pain, and that sort of thing usually catches up with a person. They needed Jesus, but all they had were drugs, alcohol, and fast cars.
Living in Florida means I experience little to no autumn most years. Kids who grow up here have no idea what a real autumn is like. Makes me all the more grateful that I grew up with four seasons.
And I’m equally grateful I grew up with a field of wonder right beside my house.