by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s Program Note
All of a sudden things are radically different. A week ago, even just a day or so, the implacable summer sun reigned supreme, turning even the most energetic and equitable into sweat soaked complainers, facing even the least demanding task as if it were a firing squad.
Then, on a morning like this one, you know, you sense, you feel that that sun, with all his dictating of every particular, has passed into long-gone history. You remember him without regret, though his leaving brings the incorrigible winter into plain sight. Thrifty housewives catch themselves
while sweeping the porch, “My, my Christmas will be here before you know it. How time does fly.” And she shakes her broom with a vigor that no one in the whole town had just the day before.
She shakes again to be sure things will be just so, ship shape. She didn’t feel this way a single moment of the summer. But she feels that way now. She catches herself, “Oh Come All Yea Faithful” her favorite Christmas song; she must check the attic. That’s where she’ll find the seasonal necessities. Then she smiles. It really is good to look early… she can’t help herself. The summer is gone, that’s for sure. And another line of “her” hymn slides out. She’ll check the attic today… just to be sure. It will never do to be unprepared… and she never is. That summer which ordered all just hours ago is gone. Dancing reindeer must follow.
One sure way you can tell the season has changed is the sound. You look quizzical, “Sound”? Yes, summer is full of Apollo’s happy music, the unbridled laughter of the young who pined for the summer, that May a million months ago, and long ago tired of it; though they must be coaxed to admit to this dark heresy.
Summer comes with whoops and shouts and slammed aluminium doors. Summer is boisterous and capable of rebuffing any amount of “Jeffrey, come in NOW!” But in summer no one means it, for everyone wants to linger in the last twilights of sun and nowhere to go. Fall is a very different thing. And so the sound is a very different thing, too.
Summer is pagan, sprawling, pocket full of secret treasures from tree limbs and swamps where the cattails are always just a few inches too far and ingenious methods are required to avoid the mud that laughs at your inadequacies. Fall is disciplined, organized, clean clothes and a new lunch box without a single scratch and extra supplies for trading.
Summer is full of sound and laughter. Fall is muted, quiet, a time of sacred spaces and promises; some of which will haunt you for a lifetime, too precious to disregard, too painful to remember, except alone, head bowed.
Summer slows, autumn speeds.
The summer sounds say “bide a while” and even if we cannot, we know we should. In autumn we are too focused on arranging the remainder of the year now swiftly ending. It is always going somewhere, and never takes us along. This is the definition of sadness, and it is the leitmotif of the season we cannot stop for even a moment of “Once upon a time.”
Autumn returns the people, our friends and neighbors, who slipped away one summer day wearing sun glasses and the battered heirloom that is a grampa’s straw hat with its unexpectly bright riband in a fanciful color called cerulean.
The children who shouted their boisterous adieux as they left the security of drive way for the great imperial highways which take them anywhere; these children are full to the brim with stories of acknowledgement and high adventure, including first love with a broken heart and blurred photos you must promise never to reveal, cross your heart…
Summer may accept no destination as acceptable. Autumn is nothing but destinations, all important, even the least of them. Summer dawdles and saunters. Autumn has a date, a time, a purpose. It is for those who want to move up, move fast, and never tarry.
In summer, we slow down to smell the flowers; in autumn we grab the few remaining flowers as we race by, never stopping to sniff; grabbing because we need to give our hostess a bouquet, thereby enhancing our reputation, even if we rip the blooms from her very own garden, unthinkable in autumn.
Back to School
I’ll become a septuagenarian my next birthday and yet I caught myself just yesterday telling a guest to go to bed at once, after all tomorrow was a “school day”, a day for improvement, dreams dreamed, defined, refined, improved, achieved and new ones launched to continue the process for life.
To so aspire I was taught soundly and well. For this my teachers of yore deserve an encomium they will not get unless from me, for when I was in the schoolyard God was in His heaven, and all was right with the world. And I have always ladled out ample pomp and circumstance to those treasured beings who made it so.
I waited for them impatiently through the days of high summer. Then one day in the dwindling days of summer, all these beings, all women, all graduates of Illinois teaching colleges came back, like so many macaws in flashes of color and insistent chatter. Now their serious endeavors could begin. I, for one, needed no encouragement.
Summer has no standards. Autumn reveals new standards with daunting regularity. My fellow students decry the new destinations, some so they will not be seen as “teacher’s pet”; some because they know these new standards push them down and under, another obstacle to their ever less certain advance. Summer, for these, was better. Then they had only to regale us with new formulations of mischief and frolic, traits in limited demand for the rest of their three score and ten, unmissed by everyone else.
The smells of summer are clean, fresh, the honest scents of the good earth, crucial, good for a thousand years. They are strong, uncompromising, too real for the fastidious whose well being rests
on the smells they seek to avoid at any cost. These waft down corridors enveloped in manly whiffs of Old Spice and Right Guard or, for the ladies, perfume like Chanel, No. 5 my mother’s scent.
One day when alone at my grandmother’s, I tried her Coty and understood its power at once. A single drop was enough to envelope you in a crowd of violets, wanton and beautiful, my favorite flower. I never tried this experiment again. I could not trust myself. I have seen the results when it is used without wisdom or restraint. It is where seduction ends and cruelty begins and never leaves.
Without any effort whatsoever I can close my eyes and smell the workaday smell of mopped floors in the cafeteria where sticky linoleum did not preclude our dance class; boys awkward, girls already proficient at entrapment, perfecting skills they will use for a lifetime. If they married “well”, their parents could congratulate themselves — and the school.
A different smell permeated the floor of the new gymnasiusm, the pride of the parents who bought it and entirely believed that those who engaged in manly sports upon its lacquered surface would never do anything squalid or dishonorable, on the floor or off. We were shocked to the core when we found off differently.
I only remember one such game on that supremely polished floor. It was a basket ball encounter, and I was coerced to be there. The star in that pipsqueak league was Bobby Lucas, who at 13 or so already knew the full power of the word “suave”. Indeed the word and all its moves might have been invented for him.
As usual he dazzled with irresistible footwork, a junior Globe Trotter for sure. And then one of those thrusts calibrated by God himself brought the crowd to its feet, even me.
To celebrate, I threw my head back and hit Bobby’s dad squarely in the face. A trickle of blood ensued, enough to remind me these almost 60 years later of the astonished look I generated when I was young and careless, when everything worked and painful limps and uncertain organs were not my portion. I’d bump old man Lucas again and again if I could bring grace and agililty back, even for an hour. I’d even go to basketball games and holler.
The trees in summer beguile and snooze under the humidity that slows all, then slows all again. Summer is happy to stay home. Fall can hardly wait for all the tickets it receives to gad about. Summer says “Come by whenever you like.” Fall makes it clear the event begins at 8 p.m. and don’t be late.
The last days of summer now demand our full attention, demand but don’t get. All eyes are on the rising sun, where every colored leaf arrests the eye. We cannot remember summer when God’s arbor wafts such allure to our attention. And so the children pile all this windswept moribundity with rakes bigger than they are and jump in, youth and beauty in every jump; their laughter infectious.
Dappled with sunshine, bedecked in only the choisest leaves, life’s acolytes walk to the shrine, from Woodward Avenue, where Mom waves and waves again. “How fast they grow up”, the mantra on her lips and every other mother’s.
From Woodward they move to Prairie, cross Belmont Road to Puffer School, which my grandfather helped to build, brickwork his specialty and where Principal Hefty had been my mother’s teacher and lived across the street from my grandparents. Many a day I ate the mulberries that fell on her sidewalk. Delicious though they were, I was the only one who partook of their richness. Now I’ve always wondered why.
“… And to the Republic for which it stands…”
At last we were all assembled, rooms of Baby Boomers, the pride of the nation, our hope for years to come. “I pledge allegiance to the Flag…” and amongst us some did so with a fervor impossible to disguise.
These were the children and grandchildren of Europe’s internecine destruction, grateful every day to thank God for the Great Republic, “liberty and justice for all.” They more than anyone knew it wasn’t so everywhere. And soon, to our chagrin and peril, it wasn’t true here either. “O, say can you see…?”
The music for today’s program is the theme song for “Ding Dong School”, which ran on NBC from 1952 to 1956. You will remember Miss Frances (Horwich), the host. She was very low key and talked exceedingly slowly, perfect for small ears and hands and irritating to anyone over 6.
Her approach made her a star. For at the height of her popularity, she had 3 million rapt viewers, one of whom was me. I can remember so very clearly carrying Miss Frances’s messages to my mother, and leaving the television set when she said she had a private message for mom.
This approach was media magic, and led on to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, and “Sesame Street”, all gold mines. Now here is a link that will take you back to where it all started.
About the author
Harvard educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant has been a “schoolboy” his entire life, his life ruled by the rhythms of the classroom. Using the knowledge gained and abiding by the commitment that produces results, Dr. Lant has written over 1,000 published articles, and over 55 books of merit and achievement. If you aim for success for yourself or your family, he is the man to connect with. Start with his autobiography “A Connoisseur’s Journey: Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.”