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John Patrick Grace: Take time to soak up all of autumn's splendor

Oct. 23, 2013 @ 08:42 AM

This is a slightly edited re-run of one of John Patrick Grace's earliest columns for The Herald-Dispatch, written not long after he settled here after spending nine years in France. It was first published on Oct. 22, 1994.

Thomas Wolfe, the writer, loved October best of all the months. Cycling through Huntington's city streets on this crisp but sunny October morning, it's easy for me to understand why. The turning trees are at their peak of color, the most brillant golds, most flaming reds, and oranges to match the pumpkins that festoon so many walkways, front porches and parlor windows.

Of all the seasons God gives us, autumn has always been my favorite.

It pains me to hear people in the midst of such riotous extravagance of nature bemoan the onset of winter. Without the increasing chill and the dying of leaves on deciduous trees, there would be no autumn, no glorious "falling down" of what cannot withstand the cold.

The moods of both Halloween and Thanksgiving, those quintessential American feasts that do not even exist outside our borders (except for Canada), depend upon the ambience that autumn provides.

Could you even imagine children disguised as spooks, witches and monsters plying their way from house to house on some balmy April evening? Or in the summer when the sun's heat and light hold us hostage 'til well after 9 o'clock? Or how about carving up the turkey and topping that with mincemeat pies in mid-July, when the stomach craves nothing more than a pasta salad and sherbet?

We need autumns, too, for football, that marvelous bridge between lazy afternoons and shirtsleeve evenings spent in the grandstands of the baseball folk heroes to whom we've pledged allegiance and the heated arenas where lithe titans in tank shirts and shorts whip a big brown ball up and down a hardwood court. Not even, I think, a towering home run, high over the right centerfield wall, can match the fascination of a pigskin thrown long to a receiver trying to outrun a defensive safety at the 18-yard line.

Autumn means jaunts to orchards for apple picking, canoeing on rivers now mercifully liberated from the sun's swelter and hiking or biking with family and close friends out back country roads awash with fallen leaves. It means hot apple cider and a hearty welcome for neighbors who drop by to compare notes after a Saturday afternoon college football game or a Sunday sermon.

It's a season for which we would like, with all our heart, to stop time, so we could live eternally amid the rich panoply of color, the mellow sun, and all the buck-toothed pumpkins.

Time, however, will not tarry. Not for a minute.

So we must seize our autumns as they march through our lives. However many we are granted -- and Thomas Wolfe had but 37 -- let us savor them all, for they are gifts beyond measure.

John Patrick Grace has spent the last 19 autumns in Huntington. He also remembers fondly autumns spent in his native Chicago, out in the Fox River Valley in Illinois during his high-school years, in New York City, Baltimore, Greensboro and Chapel Hill, N.C., and in Italy and France. He now lives in eastern Cabell county, edits and publishes books and teaches the Life Writing Class.

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