What’s your favorite time of year? I like different seasons for different reasons. But my favorite season is fall.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad and his folks on their farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
In summer, I would wade in the creek, chase lightning bugs and go fishing with my dad.
I never caught any fish, but I had great fun watching him try.
In winter, I would pray for snow. When my prayers were answered, I would spend hours sliding on a hill in the pasture and throwing snowballs at cows, then come inside to drink cocoa and thaw my feet by the fire.
In spring, my grandmother and I would go hunting for anything in bloom — trees and herbs and all sorts of wildflowers. She would teach me their names and explain why God made them: Some had medicinal uses, she said, and others were like certain people — they just made the world a better place.
In fall, the weather usually was perfect, warm enough to play in the creek by day, cold enough at night to cozy up and listen while my grandmother or my dad read to me or told me stories.
But my best fall memory begins with rain. I was 6, old enough to take a bus 40 miles from the station where my mother dropped me off, to the town where my dad picked me up. We drove to the farm in a steady drizzle. Clouds hid the mountains, thick and heavy as my grandmother’s quilts.
The next day, when the clouds parted, I went out to see a sight I will never forget. I yelled and my grandmother came running.
“Look!” I shouted, pointing at what looked to me like flames, “the mountains are on fire!”
She looked. Then, she laughed.
“That’s not fire, child,” she said. “That’s just fall.”
I wish you could have seen it.
Maybe you have seen a fall of your own, one you never will forget. I hope so.
Those leaves left their mark on my soul. Fall became my forever favorite season. Not just for its colors but for other things, too: Books we read. Talks we shared. Good times we spent together.
We did all those things in every season. But in fall, the days grew shorter. And longer evenings gave us more time for things that meant the most.
I remember the smell of my grandmother’s stew simmering in a cast iron pot on her wood stove. She made it with venison my dad had hunted. I swear, a bowl of that stew and a hunk of her cornbread would make your eyes roll back in your head.
That was long ago, but I recall it clearly. Some memories are gifts that stay with us forever.
Life took me west, and I left the mountains, but the mountains never left me. I raised my children in a different world, but with the same values I learned as a child. They love fall, as I do, for mostly the same reasons.
Thirty years ago this month, my dad took his life. His health was failing, and he was weary of hospitals. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it still does.
He told me once, after his father died, dying is part of life — it’s how old things fulfill their purpose and make room on the Earth for the new.
Those words sing a silent hymn in my heart whenever I watch leaves fall to Earth.
When seasons change, they remind us life keeps moving. We recall good times gone by, give thanks for the present, and dare to look forward to what lies ahead.
For supper tonight, I made a stew in my grandmother’s old cast iron pot. I used beef, not venison. It wasn’t as good as her stew, but we liked it. Tomorrow, we’ll have leftovers. Maybe I even will bake cornbread.
I wish you could join us.
Fall always will be my favorite time of year. But the best season to celebrate life is any time, any place, every chance we’re given.