Memories Of Summer Carry Us Through The Coming Cold
It’s the last week of August as I write this (did I sigh?), and something in the wind has changed. I noticed it yesterday as I walked my dog Rose. It sounded different. The sky was different. And I thought, what is that? It was the tops of trees; it was the sound of the wind rushing in from the southwest, still warm, yes, but changed. Stronger, purposeful, full of future. The wind swept the tops of trees as if it came in from far away with plenty to say. And I thought, those soft, malingering summer breezes have gone. And here’s fall. Here’s future.
The week before my close family was here — my two sons: Aryl from the Florida Keys and Brennan from New Jersey; the grandchildren: five-year-old Cassidy and eight-year-old Little Brennan. We spent five days together enjoying the sun and the beauty of Chautauqua County in the embrace of family, the warmth of loved ones. It was food for colder months.
And so we wish to forestall fall, too. I’m reluctant for summer to end, even August to end. Summer is reprieve here in Western New York. I drove Route 60 to Fredonia the other day on the way to the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, and it called up how a snowstorm in the terrible winter of 1977-78 had nearly killed me on a drive home from SUNY Fredonia one late afternoon, snow swirling like a beast, utter white out, drifts higher than the car up on the snow ridge. The cold closed in like doom. I can still see the weird blue lights where state troopers had lit up the highway near Sinclairville and the trooper leaning into my window, surprised I was even on the road.
I don’t think I’m alone in this wish to forestall fall. My sons joke with me about living here in my hometown little corner of the world in a hard climate that takes grit just to get around during winter months. Is there any prettier spot on earth?” I once said. One of my boys said, “No, not for four months of the year!” Everyone laughed, even me. But of course it’s not quite true. It’s beautiful here in its own vigorous way — in all weathers, and the worst weather has its own beauty too, like a kind of lean predator, white and stealthy. I dislike cold and have since youth when tracing a design on a dark icy window of my toddler’s room after I awakened, when the whole house seemed to sigh at midnight as if in despair. I equate intense cold and big snows with loneliness, and with loss of hope. It reminds me of existential landscapes of self.
So what keeps us going?
Memory of summer. Photos of loved ones. Days like today. The love of family and friends. Love, the elixir for all ills, the great panacea, and God too, of course. Sen. John McCain died Aug. 25 at 4:28 p.m. after an awful siege with brain cancer. He asked to be removed from all hospital assistance the day before. Then he died, on his own terms. McCain loved literature, particularly American Literature and particularly Hemingway, who wrote, “The world breaks everyone, but afterward many are strong in the broken places.” I like that quote. McCain was a man who had suffered the scars of war, including heinous cruelty at the hands of enemies while imprisoned for five years halfway around the world. He was a man shaped by the mettle of experience. He was a man who said he hoped he would be remembered as an honorable man. He said he needed an honorable mission in life, citing Thucydides: “Honor in action.” He said, we all need an honorable mission in life, every single day. Ah yes, we all need a mission. We all need hope. We all need family.
My grandchildren lost their mother two years and five months back, on a spring night. She died by stroke, suddenly, and for a time, nothing could soothe them. They were broken for a while. They were bruised, but kept going. They played in the purple park, the bruised place. But they played. And month by month through love and fortitude and family embrace coupled with their own unique mettle and spirit, they grew strong in all the broken places. They emerged from the cold into the sunlight. They changed seasons. Now you see their faces, radiant in the light, at Midway, riding the little red train together, climbing the rock wall, hands on the wheel of the whirly gig or the bumper cars, not fearless but brave, full of grit.
Several nights we ate our meals in Bemus at one or another restaurant directly on the lakeside. We laughed and drank in the heady air of late summer, we bathed in the lake breezes, we savored the sunset. And I examine my son Brennan’s face as he sips a drink at the restaurant by the waterside, the great languid waters of Bemus Bay spread out behind him. Yes, he has aged some in the last two and a half years following his great sorrow, but he too has grown stronger in the broken places. He is stalwart. He never shirks a task.
See FALL, Page D2
From Page D1
One day we played for a while at Celoron Park, the boys throwing the football to the children on a day so bright it lit any future. Little B, missing two front teeth as he gets ready to enter third grade, dropped a pass and looked downhearted for a moment. His Uncle Aryl walked up and reassured him, arm around his shoulder. He murmured something to his little nephew. It lasted a moment, but it was a moment of sustenance, of love. Cassidy ran over and leaned in as if to say, it will be all right, my brother. The mid-August day smiled down, in agreement.
I take my elixir for the coming winter from them, my dearest ones. I gain sustenance from a friend’s poem, from friends’ posts on Facebook who became another kind of family. I am heartened by a sense of community here in Chautauqua County and by my hardy forebearers. I get up every day with purpose for my work at the Resource Center. I consider the great relief of coffee and small talk with my sister Vicky who sometimes says exactly the right thing at exactly the right moment. I warm myself with memory. I push back fall and winter in my heart of hearts but I’m ready for fall too. The future is on the fresh, cool wind.