Summer has died.
Strongland insisted on sitting on the ground. I sat him on the walkway. It was the first morning the temperature had fallen this October. I wonder how the chilled, rough concrete felt on his skin. He turned back, grinned. He’s okay. He’s oblivious. We’ll see what he does a month from now.
We sat quietly. Sometimes owls call to each other, back and forth across the street, hidden among the pine and maple branches. A slowly opening eye, night pulled itself to sleep as the sun awoke, first leaching pale madder red, warming slightly to watercolor-wash scarlet, then opaque salmon pinks, quiet traces of shuffling light as if God was unfurling colored parchment paper across the sky.
Autumn is born.
My mind rumbled clumsily. How do you explain a funeral to a boy? How do you tell him that the men that have held him on their laps in one place or another, have dropped by to see him, or he has seen at family events, will never see him again? Strongland won’t remember. A great sorrow in me envies the forgetting.
The men of this town are dying. I named four men to Strongland, his small version of my hand, minus the scars and broken but healed bone, gripped a fallen leaf, tightly between his fingers. I can’t tell if to him the leaf was just a thing, or a treasure to behold. He tore it apart into jagged pieces. One he handed to me and grinned. Another dropped away. He held the last piece.
Is this how God holds us? We fall away, or are clutched tightly, or given up to another hand to care for? How does a father or a mother tell a boy these things?
I met the son of one of the four men that died during this transition of seasons. A gaunt man, a younger version of Robert Duvall, offered his hand. His understanding was that I had just moved here. “You came at a bad time,” he said, a trace of a smile, as if he was channeling the words his deceased father might have spoken had he been the one to greet me. No, I wanted to tell him, as I thought about fathers and their sons, my own father, and my own son. I came at the only time it could matter.
At the funerals of their fathers, the daughters and granddaughters rose, and drawing from some deep well of courage and grace that men, other than preachers, seem to find hard to come by in these situations, choked back tears, clutched lined white paper and shared beautiful passages that can only be written by daughters. We, the still living, listened, and prayed, and pushed back against our own timelines of mortality.
Strongland’s mother and I decided his birthday will be our official announcement that the season has changed. And so it has, just. And his small hand will grow, and his skin will weather and become scarred and his bones will break and heal and I will pass on.
Autumn will fade and die—but we are here at the only time it could matter—in all our glorious heartbreak.