birthday in November. Wrinkles and cake for all my friends! Then there is the collective sigh of relief as hurricane season slows to an end and the cool fronts begin in earnest with their hints of winter winds. And drifting throughout are enough memories to fill an entire calendar year.
Halloween has me time traveling back to those costumed nights when being frightened was part of the package, an important component of being a kid. Too scared to scream—that is until the really cool lady down the street handed you a full sized Three Musketeers bar, not those teeny tiny little ones. Oh, let the games begin! Jacked up on sugar we became fearless.
Through the years we graduated from the protective reins of our parents hands, hands we held onto for dear life, frightened not only of all the scary nylon skeletons and ghosts in tattered sheets, but of making new friends and meeting all those new parents. Sure they handed us candy, but they were still grown-ups.
As we grew we got to go it alone (alone as ya could be with a six- pack of kids and a handful of various older brothers and sisters for good measure). The times were somewhat softer, safer; but parents still held watch over us from afar. I suspect that Halloween never leaves us and even as grown-ups we still expect something extra ominous on that night. Shadows cast from a street light or the growl of a little poodle next door will always take on a life of their own that Ray Bradbury would be proud of.
For me no other season of the year carries such foreboding or promise as autumn. Here in Louisiana, as well as in my Alabama hometown, fall is short lived, unless you consider our winters no more than an extension. A different lighting is cast as Daylight Savings is suspended and evenings darken an early dusk. The city bus, all brightly lit from within, lumbering down Esplanade looks like a one-float parade. Homes seem to hunker down and through their windows lampshades glow amber as televisions flicker the evening news. Cars returning home stream headlight beams sending small creatures racing for safety.
Sounds become different as the humidity moves out and cooler breezes edge in. Living so long in the Quarter I had forgotten the sounds of leaves blowing and branches creaking. And the smells change with the season. The fragrant whiff of freshly cut grass, chlorinated pool water, and citronella candles are replaced with the rich smoky plumes from chimneys (with a rare need for such heat, air conditioners will run simultaneously). The thin gauze of haze that filters summer’s view is replaced and we see through autumn’s lens with a clearer focus that lends a precision to everything. Nature smells sharper, fresher—not one bit better than summer, just crisper, different.
“Never wear white after Labor Day”. (Sure, whatever you say Mom.) Apparel protocol is kinda skewed here in the gulf south and fashion faux pas rule. While some parts of the country shift directly into woolen coats and leather boots, we take baby steps—a sweater with our cotton dresses and jeans instead of cutoffs. I know it’s cold when I wear socks with my Birkenstocks. The temperature here can change 50 degrees in a 24 hour period. In our closets, summer clothes cling close to winter coats. And before shrimper boots became the fashion ‘must” (available in every hue and variety of fleur-de-lis) white was the standard and those shoes still retain a station in my closet—year round.
November is synchronous with politics and elections.
Every two to four years it marks the changing (or retaining) of the guard. I love to follow elections with the same fascination I devote to tracking a storm during hurricane season. This year there are no elections but tell that to the big wigs (and the toupee wanna-bees). Money and time, valuable time, will be poured into campaigning by both sides; and little to no insight will be gleaned by the voters as to what the hell the candidates really will do if they win. In sports, such as football, there are referees to maintain some sort of fairness and honesty on the field—maybe they could assist in elections. Might even improve voter turn out. Chicken wings and beer are quite an incentive.
Polishing off November is my favorite day of the year: Thanksgiving. For me it’s a no-strings-attached holiday. No gifts to buy, no “oh you shouldn’t have” gifts to receive. No decorations are required. It can be an enormous dinner party or not. But what it has always been for me is uncomplicated. When I lived in the Quarter it was my one day of the year that was virtually tourists free. A day when the Quarter folks took back their otherwise congested and noisy neighborhood. I could wake up early and walk the streets and riverfront, barely brushing past another soul. Then as the morning approached noon you could spot aluminum foil covered dishes and trays making their way across streets and down sidewalks, often accompanied by a bottle of wine. Little by little the white noise of football games would filter out from apartments and homes.
The day would remain quite homey and low key until much later in the afternoon as surrounding faubourgs would grow restless, having had enough of feasting, family and football, and hit the Quarters. Even still, for a bit of that day, it was mine, all mine. After Katrina I would receive more quiet days than ever imagined. The unexpected absence of visitors to the Quarter would last a couple of years—careful what you wish for.
Thanksgiving is the perfect segue from autumn to winter. Childhood memories are revisited, old recipes dusted off, the good silver polished, picnic and barbecue cutlery are retired until crawfish season, and we begin our warm-up for the next stretch of holidays that define life here more than the winter winds.