An Autumn’s Tale

Who knows what holiday it is any more?  Between statist tinkering with our cultural calendar and multi-fronted commercialist blitzes, I forget not just what we’re celebrating, but when we celebrate it.  Yet the higher realities of life abide firmly beyond our folly.

The leaves aren’t exactly yellowing down in Texas as the days shorten.  In fact, my confused apricot tree has volunteered a few blossoms between the warm, heavy rains, like Noah sending out a dove.  Yet I feel wintry inside: bare, alone, and dormant if not quite dead.

My experiment with backyard agriculture turned out rather well for having run only one full cycle.  I’m harvesting peanuts bigger than almonds (single peanuts, that is), and the bell peppers are literally pulling their mother plants over on the ground.  The butternut squash crop, I must admit, was disappointing (the seeds of these, by the way, are healthy eating and become very tasty when toasted)—but the hickory nuts from a huge old tree that predates our house have never fallen in such a thick, steady hail.  If only they were edible!  Strictly speaking, they are; yet getting to the meat requires such force that nut and shell end up mingled in the smithereens.  I bagged a couple of dozen on a whim last week and drove the truck back and forth over them in the driveway.  They might as well have been chips of granite—I didn’t break a single one!

All things considered, I feel that I have made a reasonable beginning to Obama-proofing my life.  If my wife and I lose our jobs, at least we can live on peanuts and peppers… and sweet potatoes.  I can’t figure out when to dig the things up.  They’re swelling out of the ground in places, yet their crawling leaves continue to colonize the lawn.  I’m told that the leaves, too, are edible and nutritious.

Water, of course, will be the first challenge in a hyperinflationary meltdown.  I could arrange to collect much more than I currently have; but my three huge barrels at strategic creases in the roof line would see my wife and me through many weeks, and even months, in the survivalist mode.  Though I haven’t swatted up on my Bear Grylls for the occasion, I believe I recall that straining water through a filter of fine sand and fabric, followed by a day in a sealed glass container under steady sunlight, safely yields the sort of beverage that even Michelle Obama would approve.  (She wants us all eating as healthy as young Nazis-in-training, while her husband wants us all without jobs and without accessible doctors: does that strike anyone else as odd?)

There is undeniably a certain peace that comes of living within natural cycle.  Nothing helps one to appreciate a harvest festival like a genuine harvest.  The one thing I like about all of FDR’s incessant progressivist tinkering is his brief attempt to bring Thanksgiving closer to All Saints Day and the Irish Samhain (with which interfaces of life and death it shares implicit connections).  To be sure, “Franksgiving” was all about rewarding the President’s fat-cat supporters… but one can make peace with a bad man’s bad motives when the results are good.  This coming Thursday would have been perfect for a fall celebration.  What were the pilgrims thinking of by waiting so long—and in frigid New England!  November’s first Thursday, at any rate, would much better have suited Western cultural history, the waning daylight, and my graying mood as an occasion to measure terrestrial circles of life and death. 

Now I view the holiday with dread because it fuses with the unsightly shopaholic frenzy that blights the whole of December.  (The pilgrims, I realize, didn’t foresee that complication.)  If those of us who actually believe in something beyond this brief, often sordid life want to lobby for the reconquest of our culture, we could do worse than beginning with a demand that Thanksgiving be advanced to November’s first week (disarming the ghoulishness of Halloween) and that Christmas giving be more disciplined (e.g., no automated gizmos, nor anything with a Hollywood pedigree). 

Because Thanksgiving is so especially late this year, it plunges me into a further predicament which has much to do with my peculiar emptiness.  My son will apparently pass the holiday more or less alone in a cold dorm far away during his first fall apart from us.  Were he nearer or the holiday farther from Christmas, I could justify the expense of racing up to spend a few hours with him.  With money so tight, however, and his full liberation from classes coming only two weeks later, the indulgence is hard to justify.  I remind myself that I was much more distant from home than he when I went off to college at a younger age, and that his grandfather was probably in the Philippines at this stage of life, having lied about his age to join the Air Force.  These reminders don’t do much good, though.  Cold and empty is cold and empty: you don’t ever want it for someone you care about.

His roommate was supposed to have him invited home—and indeed did so, I think.  But that adventure took on a different cast when the friend announced his intention of working at a sporting goods store during Black Friday and its shadowy weekend.  What kid wants to be left alone—a glaring intruder—in the midst of a large family reunion?  Some kinds of loneliness involve large crowds, and those can be the worst kinds.

I’m not sure that we know how to celebrate any more.  Oh, we can “party”, all right—can we ever!  We know how to spend money so as to turn up the volume, to increase the density, to tickle multiple senses at once, and to make everything accelerate.  We know how to create situations which grow memorable for being so very different from yesterday and tomorrow—for being unmoored and adrift, like a firecracker’s trail.  The kind of celebration I mean, though, slows things down and makes them quiet.  It kneads yesterday and tomorrow into a seamless unity like the music of the spheres.  You remember holidays past when you were in the same geographical place, but in the company of people now long gone.  And you realize that you, too, will one day be gone—but also that the day when they, the departed, were here continues, and that they remain here even now.  You understand in a kind of epiphany how little those things matter to whose pursuit you devote most of your routine days—the iGadgets bought on Black Friday, and the spending change earned by selling them.  You feel missing presences (or the flitting ghosts of the past, I should say) in crowded company; and when you sneak away for a lonely walk around the block on traffic-less holiday streets, you discover that no one has ever really gone away, or ever could.

That loneliness is to be prized above most moments that this life can offer… but we have secured for ourselves, instead, too much of the wrong kind.  Looking just at my own family, I recollect people who died too soon at sedentary jobs and of diseases related to stress.  On my side, I see no nieces or nephews, no cousins for my son: the toxic wave of feminist careerism and professional ambition left some of us unwilling to seek a mate and others unable to find one.  On my wife’s side are divorces, with their eternal afterglow of confusion and bitterness: children spending holidays first with this parent, then with that one, and probably thankful for nothing so much as the end of it all and tomorrow’s return to the humdrum.  Old people try to remember what happened to full, festive dinner tables, blazing hearths, and train whistles.  Teenagers look for corners in which to text away unmolested.  Pieces of lives, of eras, lie strewn everywhere, as if the china plate bearing the turkey had disastrously slipped from careless hands and shattered over the kitchen floor. 

That’s assuming that we can even bring ourselves physically together from all the points where unstable careers, marriage and divorce, and flight from the hometown’s horrors have carried us.  Often enough nowadays, it’s just my wife and I.

A lot of this is fallout from the American Dream, to be honest.  Obama didn’t do it to us.  On the contrary, the sickening blowback from fanciful, wasteful, self-indulgent ambitions has withered us in radioactive waves—on whose final ripples ride Obama and other rattling Death’s Heads. 

Meanwhile, my pecan tree gets a little closer to bearing each season—the kind of tree which once abounded in this region with incredible loads of tasty protein, and which “developers” plowed under by the thousand to clear land for cookie-cutter houses (“dream homes”, they were called).  Someday maybe I will fight off the squirrels for this little fellow’s harvest, and recall the autumn when it was scarcely taller than my son far away and alone for the first time.  Maybe I’ll yet live that long.

Thank God for you, my son, and God bless you.

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