This is my 33rd fall.
I am much older than 33, but I grew up in a climate where there are at least a dozen short seasons, not four that (notionally) last three months each, or the two that around here are Winter and Road Construction (or destruction). When I was young, the deciduous trees were generously accompanied by evergreens, both conifers and whatever the term is for trees with leaves that continually shed and re-grow. Fall did see some falling leaves, and leaf-piles to jump in and make crackle; my midwestern-born grandfather might have burned leaves sometimes. But the season was marked more by Back To School, Halloween, and Thanksgiving than by weather or other natural phenomena.
I remember very clearly a few minutes of a fall morning 33 years ago. My penny loafers rapped out a rhythm on a concrete sidewalk as I headed for a bus stop, on my way to a day of classes. I wore a red and black checked skirt my grandmother had made me, in a light woven cotton, over black tights; on top I had on a black silk button-front shirt and a black angora cardigan, and a black beret on my head. The day’s high was forecast to be around 55. There was frost on the grass and on car windshields. Where I came from, frost happened only rarely, in the depths of winter. Fisting my hands in my cotton pockets, I began to get a faint notion of what winter would be like in my new place. I had one wool dress, which I had worn once on a November trip to Chicago. I had a gabardine raincoat with a zip-in wool liner, which had not been warm enough in Chicago even when layered over the wool dress. I had a pair of fur-lined leather gloves given to me by the doctor I once worked for, who had grown up in Philadelphia.
Within a month I had acquired a parka rated to -15 degrees F, a pair of boots that could withstand snow, and a pleated wool skirt that I still have. I would also learn about flannel-lined jeans, waffle-weave long underwear, and properly insulated gloves. I’ve learned to cope. But I still find it hard to move from the season my body recognizes as winter to the sort of winter that afflicts the midwest. Fall seems to be coming late this year, and I hope that doesn’t mean that winter will be vicious when it hits.