Friday, September 26, 2008

Autumn Memories

Autumn was her favorite season of the year. It’s also the time of year when I miss her the most. It’s the season when old memories are awakened with the rustling of fall leaves.

I approach the old farmhouse, so familiar, yet so foreign. Now empty and abandoned, it has never been the same without her. It was her presence that brought life to the old farmhouse and made it warm and inviting. I glance up, almost expecting to see her smiling face looking out the kitchen window. Instead, I am greeted only by multihued leaves dancing across the yard, proclaiming the arrival of fall. My mind is filled with recollections of flowers swaying about dressed in the finest shades of yellow, orange, and crimson red. I can almost see her kneeling there by the flower beds, garden trowel in hand, sweet look of contentment on her face.

I recall plump orange pumpkins lining the steps that seemed to beckon visitors to stop in for homemade pumpkin pie and gingerbread. Various gourds, pumpkins, and cornstalks always decorated the yard. Somehow, it never resembled the yards I saw in Better Homes and Gardens or Southern Living magazine. Our yard was a place to have fun. Leaves weren’t something to be raked, gathered up, hauled away or burned. They were something you raked up and jumped in while she laughed and took pictures with her old Kodak camera.

I can almost smell the delicious scents that seemed to be carried along with the crisp fall breeze. Aromas from her kitchen signaled autumn’s arrival just as sure as the changing leaves and the falling temperatures. There always seemed to be an abundance of apples and pumpkins at harvest time. Visitors were often enticed into her kitchen by the smell of fresh baked apple pies that lined the farmhouse table. Pumpkins from the garden were turned into cinnamon-spiced pumpkin pies. Melt-in-your mouth pumpkin bread awaited us on chilly evenings. Homemade stews and soups simmered on the stove all day, ushering us in from evening barn chores.

I recall treasured memories of afternoons spent with her in the kitchen learning to bake. Too small to reach the top of the table, I stood on a stool while she patiently taught me to bake my first batch of brownies. It never seemed to matter if the flour was spilled on the floor and the table a mess. For some reason, her housework never seemed to be very important either. She always had time to stop whatever she was doing to spend time with us kids. Memories surface of getting off the school bus and seeing her waiting in the doorway, always smiling and happy to see us. Homemade cookies, still warm from the oven, often sat on the old farmhouse table seeming to welcome us home after a long day at school. She always made time to listen to our silly school stories. Secrets were safely kept within the confines of the old stone farmhouse walls.

Life itself seemed to revolve around that old farmhouse table at times. Many home cooked meals were served there, but it was much more than just a place to eat. It held the old Singer sewing machine on days when mending needed done. It was the place where clothes were cut out and sewed, poems were written, scrapbooks were made, photos were pasted in photo albums, board games were played, and laundry was folded. It was the place where newborn babies were placed on thick soft towels and received their daily sponge bath. No expensive or designer décor ever graced the old farmhouse table. It always displayed a homemade centerpiece. We would help her gather brightly colored fall leaves each year. These were placed neatly on a tray and surrounded by miniature gourds, Indian corn, and tiny pumpkins. She never found the need for anything expensive or fancy. She was content with her faith in God, being there for dad and us kids, and taking care of the old farmhouse.

Staring at the abandoned house, the golden leaves dancing beneath my feet seem to be in tune with the bittersweet emotions racing through my mind. It seems like yesterday I was a little girl jumping in the leaves. I was the little girl standing at the table baking pumpkin pies and brownies. Childhood seemed like an eternity then, and death was a distant thought; something that happened to old people. She was the constant presence in our lives; the one you could count on…the one who I thought would always be there.

As sure as the arrival of autumn seems to freshly awaken old memories each year, it also induces new seasons of life. Those carefree childhood days with mom by my side seem so recent, yet so distant. I’ve since grown up and have watched my own four children grow up. Now my grandchildren are the little ones standing by my side. I can only pray that one day the memories I leave for my children and grandchildren will be as sweet as the ones mom left behind for me; memories that might once again be awakened by the rustling of fall leaves.

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