The shortening days of autumn lead to a galaxy of happy and warm associations in my mind.
Let me take you to the family farm in Whitefield, ME. I was afraid to leave my mom for overnight visits for a long time, but by the time I was six, I couldn’t get enough of the Homestead. We visited in all seasons, of course, but the fall and winter especially stand out in my mind.
Sometimes my grandparents would arrive at our house in Brunswick to pick us up. As the baby-blue Oldsmobile pulled into the driveway, my mom always said, “Look who’s here!” and my brother Eric and I would go nuts. Grandpa was always clad in forest green Dickies, and Grandma always had a mod ‘70s sleeveless polyester shirt and, in the coldest weather, a knit sweater. We would load into the Olds, bathe in the magnificent cigar smoke wafting through the interior, and we were off.
I always loved the sound of the turn signal, but it seemed sharper when it was cold out. The sound was a comforting “click-clock”, from C to F, like a large interior clock. But the rhythm was eighth notes, so the C had a bit more urgency: “CLICK-clock-CLICK-clock” rather than “CLICK-rest-clock-rest-CLICK-rest-clock-rest.” My sense of rhythm and tone may well have developed here.
My grandfather’s wood pile towered in the yard by the hen house, always big enough to climb our way to the top and observe our kingdom. We would play Nerf football on the leaf-strewn great lawn, with puffs of wood smoke from the stove hanging low, or play on the tractor in the tool shed, with the smell of sawdust, kerosene and WD40 melding in the crisp air.
The main event came when the light left the sky in the afternoon. The sunsets at the Homestead during the cold months, to this day, grip my heartstrings and leave me speechless.
There is something about a person coming inside during the cold months. The door opens and a blast of fresh chill follows, infused with the smell of cold, leaves, earth and the mission of the arriving person. My grandfather, after feeding the sheep, always carried the scent of the barn, hay, his work clothes, kitchen matches, wood smoke and cigar smoke. This remains a magical concoction in my mind.
After dark, with a fire roaring in the wood stove, we would gather in the living room. My grandfather would smoke his cigars, my grandmother would make Jiffy-pop, and we would watch the classics of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Vegas, Quincy, Dallas, Hill Street Blues, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, The Rockford Files, Alice, One Day at a Time. So we weren’t studying for the bar. But we were together and warm and happy.
As the days got colder, the pile of blankets on the beds upstairs got thicker. My grandmother would kiss us to sleep, and we were off to dream of breaking through coverage for touchdowns, playing a Les Paul through a wall of Marshall stacks at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and skiing or tobogganing from the edge of the woods to the house.
I was never warmer in my life than I was during those short cold days, but it all comes back to me every time I return to visit my parents in the old house on the farm.