A Night to Remember

As the leaves blow and the wind turns, my thoughts return to a time similar to this, a fall season 54 years ago. From an eternity viewpoint, it was just like today, except for different players: leaves in the street, children playing in piles of leaves, people holding their coats tightly around them as the upcoming winter winds began to practice on their fall coats. Our wedding would be tomorrow night, Thanksgiving eve.

It was a time of magic, a time of wonder, a time of love, a time when nothing was impossible and everything was achievable. My wife was in college and I was in the Air Force; our time together seemed endless and we never thought of growing older, only of being together. The future seemed to be within our grasp, yet we knew nothing of it. We asked nothing, we sought no assurances, we begged no insurance. Each day together was a day of laughter, a day of giggles, a day of discovery of each other and a day to draw closer together.

It was a time of no indebtedness or commitments other than to each other. No home, no car, no phone, no credit card, no bills, no children. I relish that time and would love to relive that fall. Nothing else seemed to matter so long as we were together — and we wouldn’t have understood any of the bigger world anyway.

Within four years we would have a car, a dear son, bills to pay, insurance to understand and careers to consider, but not now. We were married that fall and spent the next year in Hampton, Virginia, while I was stationed at Langley Air Force Base. Penniless were we. But rich also. I recall our biggest and proudest purchase was a 9 x 12 rug, paper thin, to put in our tile-floored apartment living room. Suddenly, we felt wealthy. I recall another occasion where my bride purchased some inexpensive drapes from a discount store to create the illusion of a dining room in our small apartment. We felt so excited that first night at dinner to have a curtain separating our table from the living area. It was a sense of elegance, privacy and intimacy that would otherwise not be present in the apartment. She made that happen.

A special night that first year: I remember a night of memories and dreams. On a dark night, in the midst of a rain shower, my wife and I took a walk through a nearby non-military residential area. As the rain poured off our umbrella, and as we dodged cars and gullies, we envied the lights in the homes we passed: families that were together with no commitment to leave each other, families that were free to pursue their lives, families that had established their roots and careers. Standing there in the cold rain, those houses seemed warm, inviting and providing safe havens, a world far removed from us and a reminder that we had only each other. We longed for that security, yet knew it would not be soon, if ever. That night — that rainy walk — still seems like yesterday. At that time we already knew that our lives would be separated for 18 months while I was stationed in the Mediterranean. We purchased a Mizpah coin to share and, yes, we still have the coin.

But back to that fall of 54 years ago. Thanksgiving eve was the day for our marriage and we had no car to get to or from the church. A major snowfall was in the forecast and we had no means of transportation. We had rented a tiny apartment; a kitchen/dining room/living room, a small bedroom of maybe 12 x 15, and a bathroom where we could not stand erect because the apartment was in an attic. I managed to rent a 2-door 1948 Dodge sedan from a fellow airman to take us from the church to the reception (my wife’s parents’ house) and then back to our apartment. Despite all, we have memory-filled pictures to show how happy we were in our small world; we had the joy of being poor and not knowing it.

Looking back, I am thankful for the memories, but they are just that, memories. We went through those early years succcessfully, but I would not want to ever do that again. Being separated for 18 months was painful; our only means of communication was the postal letter. Today, snow is in the forecast, just as it was that dark, windy night 54 years ago. The calendar has repeated: Thanksgiving eve and snow. Life is good.

In rereading this post, I am wondering why I write this. Generally, reflecting on the past is rarely constructive and usually destructive. Looking back deprives us from looking to the future. Still, I found strength in reliving those memories. Maybe it’s the timing; our anniversary is here and recalling early challenges restores those initial feelings of commitment and hope, revisiting the foundation and initial milestones of a lifetime relationship. Looking back is a process that I enjoy to aid me in finding the decisions made that brought me to today. That is my rudder. And tomorrow we celebrate that Thanksgiving Eve of 54 years ago.

Leaves

leavesThis week has been devoted to leaves: raking, mulching, admiring, viewing. They have graced our home since early spring, transforming many hot, sunny afternoons into pleasant escapes from the world, allowing me to sit under our maple tree in the back yard while reading a book and enjoying our dog, Shadow. Our trees keep our house cool in summer and protect the moisture in the lawn, yet I see the leaves as the tree’s ambassadors, the workers who achieve the results. Trees give beauty to any landscape, yet it is the leaves we see, the leaves that remind us of the blessing we enjoy from this Earth. Annually, in late winter we seek the first sign of early spring: little buds on the tree branches, the sign of rebirth across the land. I confess, once the leaves appear I tend to forget them until fall when they have finished their role on the tree and begin a descent to their goal of decomposing and providing nutrients for future leaves.

It is in this final phase in the fall that I am drawn to write of leaves. Fall winds carry them across the yard in their flight, their bright colors a joy to behold. Raking the leaves is never work, although when finished I find my back aches and my sore arms argue that work it was. Raking is never truly needed; nature always sees to the recycling and new growth. Our efforts reflect our need to control and manage the process, but there seems more to this than simple removal of the leaves. Raking leaves makes us a part of this annual event that has been happening for the past 350 million years and will continue as long as there are trees. This gives us a sense of being a part of eternity, a part of an event that ties us to the Earth and to nature. That thought isn’t likely on our minds while raking, but I have yet to speak to a person raking leaves who wasn’t in high spirits; although we may deny it, we enjoy our small part in the annual fall celebration of the change of seasons. Leaves are a visible reminder of the life cycle we share: birth, growth, contribution, retirement, death, recycle. Like the leaves, we enjoy our time in the sun, but we are not here forever; all things come to an end.

Enough. Through the window I see leaves swirling in the wind. I am needed there. My rake awaits.