Tuesday, October 19, 2010
An autumn treasure
Years ago, a giant sugar maple tree, the focal point on our city block, towered over oaks, a sprinkling of pines and sycamores. That tree stood like a sentry between my brick house and my best friend’s bungalow. When Rose and I were young, we'd sit on the porch swing on warm autumn evenings and watch our small children frolic outdoors in the crimson red, brilliant gold and orange leaves. They took turns scraping metal rake tines across the sidewalk, and they belly laughed as they leaped off the steps and sunk into leaf piles.
Each autumn school day they scuffed their shoes through the fallen leaves, moist with morning dew. Rose and I gathered the most brilliant ones and we used them to decorate. By mid-November the kids joyously crunched and stomped and rustled through the faded brown decay beneath their feet.
Today, as I watch my grandchildren frolic in the fall leaves, reverie carries me back. I can almost see them. There goes my little girl, Tracey, walking up the block. She bends over and tugs her red knee socks up after tromping with her little brother, Jason, and her best friend, Denise, through the new fallen leaves. I remember their laughter as a wind gust loosens a few more leaves which dance upon their heads.
I see myself young, going next door to visit my best friend,Denise’s mom. Rose and I sip coffee, dunk a sweet roll, wonder about life, and predict when that last hanger-on at the top of the tree will let loose. We watch it for weeks. Just before Christmas I bundle up and hurry next door. Rose greets me with a warm chocolate chip cookie in hand. Her gaze drifts beyond me and she laughs aloud. “Look!” Together we catch a glimpse of the last leaf to fall. Satisfied, we settle in for our morning chat. Our conversations are serious, silly, soulful and sometimes sedate.
Twenty years we watched the seasons pass. Every spring we waited anxiously for the first buds to burst on the sugar maple tree. Its green canopy shaded us on hot summer days. We were awe-struck by its autumn finery. The tree’s annual life cycle represented another year of our friendship. Rose was like the last leaf to drop; she hung on as long as she could, but just before Thanksgiving, she lost her battle with cancer, at age 52.
At this time of year, I am reminded of the special time I spent with her in her last days as she fought to make it through one more Christmas, her favorite time of year. Before she died she gave me a handmade treasure. We sat in her yard and she pointed out brilliantly colored leaves she wanted. I ran to gather the selection, some before they hit the ground. She clutched them like a bouquet. She tired rapidly and wanted to go inside. She asked me to come back the next day.I did. She was so weak, she could hardly speak, but she presented me with ten pages of computer paper on which she had scotch taped the leaves in different patterns. "You like them?"
"I'll treasure them forever," I said, knowing that my forever and hers were so differen't. "I'll use them every year with my preschoolers," I promised.
Every autumn since her death I show them to my students and tell them about my friend. We guess how many are on each paper; we talk about the colors which are somewhat faded after 13 years, but still crisp and preserved in Contact paper.
Fall, with its early darkness and the impending date of my friend's death makes me feel melancholy, but there is a certain beauty to these days, as everything has a life cycle, leaves, flowers, people.
Rose sent me a gift from beyond too. I shall share it with you soon.
Now go tromp in some fall leaves.