Monday, November 30, 2015

Autumns: 4

I was back working full-time nights after moving to Utah, and Lori let me sleep every morning after I'd be up past 1 a.m. every night (our deadlines were later back then, and I could never just come home and go to sleep. However, this late September morning, not two months after we moved, she woke me up early. Our apartment had a balcony with a nice little view of the Salt Lake Valley, and this day, for the first time, there was snow on the mountains across the distance. The sight -- one we never had growing up -- cemented the reality or our move into a new chapter in our lives. And it sure was pretty.

The sunsets in November are even more amazing. The sun drops beyond the Oquirrh Mountains, giving off an orange glow above the silhouetted peaks. The view is unique to my Utah experience, but it feels like the Novembers I have encountered my whole life.

I played so much Atari in 1982. Megamania and Pitfall. Berserk and Defender. Starmaster and Demon Attack. E.T. came out November, and wow, it was frustrating. Grandma bought me Earthworld that fall, which I foolishly chose over Wizard of Wor.

I started a paper route that fall. I listened to WLS and WBBM a lot, and taped songs off the radio. "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson and "Hold On" by Santana especially remind me of that November.

If I could divide my youth between little kid and not so little kid, it would be around this November. Of course, being close to my teen years had something to do with it, but everything got a bit more serious. I knew more about the dangers of the world (remember, this wasn't a fun time to be a kid during the Cold War). I pondered things for hours, especially while walking the paper route. And I sprouted taller -- 10 inches over the next three years.

Just like fall 1979 seemed to start something new, as did 1987, as did 2000, as did many autumns over the decades, a new phase was beginning.

Lori and I only had one day to do what we needed to do in Madison. She had a job interview, and we needed to find an apartment. We got an early start from Milwaukee, and the afternoon was cloudy and rainy. I heard an awesome '70s station that would switch formats in six weeks. Lori's interview went well, and we went to Irish Waters for lunch. Not quite knowing my way around the west side of Madison, I got on the Beltline on Mineral Point Road and headed back east, rather than just turning back east toward the city. The expressway curved into a view of five or six large apartment complexes lining the side of the road. We veered off the Gammon Road exit and checked out almost each one.

Three weeks later, we were Madisonians. The night we moved in, I drove to find Chinese takeout for dinner, and felt like I had arrived. The previous year was limbo at my former newspaper, and I deep down knew we'd be in another city when it was all said and done. We lucked out in that we landed in Madison.

The first couple months or so in Mad Town were unique for me. Lori was commuting to Milwaukee through November before her new job started up. I was getting used to early mornings (my new job was an afternoon newspaper), and my afternoons were sometimes spent driving around my new city or exploring walks to take in our new neighborhood. The November evenings arrived so early -- Lori didn't get home each night until it was dark. Eventually, our routine normalized, and we thrived in Madison. We got engaged in 1996, married in 1997. Lori got her degree from the UW. In retrospect, our five years in Madison were the dreamiest time of our lives.

Lori is in her third trimester with Michael. We are in our new house, and one October midweek she is out of town and I'm painting the impending baby's room blue, in preparation for my sister visiting and turning the walls into an ocean scene. The temperature drops on one of those days, and I don my winter coat for the first time and take a little walk around our new neighborhood.

I managed to make every one of Lori's OB/GYN appointments, and on one visit this fall, were are waiting in an exam room for the doctor to come in. I leafed through a Parents magazine, eyeing the pictures of kids dressed for fall, outside amid an autumn setting. I began imagining walking my kids to school during the fall, in a perfect setting as visualized in the magazine. And ... I started tearing up. Our lives were about to change so incredibly, so wonderfully, that all I could do was be overwhelmed in that moment.
That morning, now almost six weeks ago, that I hiked through the conservancy, I was feeling wistful. I missed Madison, and not just the time Lori and I spent there, but the fact we weren't living there with the boys. We did have dreams of staying in Madison and starting our family there, but our goals changed and we landed in Utah -- and we did so with no regrets.

I'm thinking that my overall mood is tied to how smooth or rocky work is going. Leading up to the Madison trip, the previous two months had been rough, so perhaps it was no wonder I was feeling so nostalgic, so missing a place that was special to Lori and me. I spent that walk thinking about the goals I had in Madison -- some that I achieved, and some that remain unfulfilled. The latter were the ones that were bringing me down. We were leaving that day, we only had a couple days of vacation remaining, and it would be back to the grind.

But a funny thing happened once we got back, and especially in the past few weeks -- work settled down, and my outlook brightened, even in the cloudiness and chill of November. I'm not sure what that says on an overall level, but at least it's a reminder that long-term gloom may be nothing more than my work mood at the moment. Again, that might lead to more examination of how to meet the goals that are always evolving; however, it's not, and never is, a reason to look way back.

We left Madison that Sunday via the Beltline, taking the same curve we did 20 years earlier (perhaps almost to the day). This time, we didn't take the Gammon Road exit, though I was tempted. Hopefully, we make it back another autumn to take the boys the another UW football game, maybe to Elver Park for a hike along the cross country ski trails, maybe to Governor Nelson State Park, maybe to the capitol.

Autumn was always about change for me, whether it was many the falls I have written about and several more I didn't. As for 2015, nothing quite changed, but something seemed different. With winter on its way, and then spring and summer and another fall, we'll see where it all leads.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Autumns: 3

November in Chicago isn't my favorite time of year in my hometown. But in a sense, it's the most perfect definition of what being a Chicagoan is. I delineate this stretch as the weeks between my birthday on Nov. 6 and the first snow in which the ground stayed covered. It encompasses Thanksgiving. It is characterized by gray skies, 40-degree highs, and incredibly early sunsets. Darkness settles over the city before 5 p.m., but it's not quite winter yet. The time is just ... bland, lacking any features.

And yet, Chicagoans endure this time. They know winter is ahead, yet they go about their days, working, living, pushing forward. Even today, I can listen to a Chicago radio station (via the Internet, of course) in November and this characteristic is evident. Rejuvenating May afternoons, quiet summer mornings, crisp Octobers, and even stark, snowy winter evenings are more appealing, but November is more defining.

Fall 1987 turned out to be my last autumn as a full-time Chicagoan. I went to school in Milwaukee, and though I'd make it home for Thanksgiving every year and winter break around mid-December as a freshman and sophomore, I haven't spent more than four or five days in Chicago in November (and none since we moved to Utah) since my senior year of high school.

These days were memorable. My senior year retreat was in November 1987 -- a rather intense weekend. I hung out with my friends a lot, and it was never boring. I saw "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" and listened to New Order. I visited Marquette for the first time. The skies were gray or sunny and cold, but not snowy. I was getting by, just like every other Chicagoan.

I've written about this autumn before -- spending a weekend with my grandparents, seeing "Urban Cowboy" with my grandmother and seeing a Bears game with my grandfather. The rest of the fall was OK, mostly cloudy. I got a Mattel Football 2 electronic game for my birthday that I still own today. I got to see a Houston Oilers walkthrough at Soldier Field and got Earl Campbell's autograph. I roller skated a lot.

My grandfather died in September of this year. Grandma was still so devastated when I first got into town, but the next day at the wake, she became the matriarch, being strong for the entire family, never shedding a tear -- even at the funeral (when I had to excuse myself when I started sobbing). She was sad, of course, but she got her mourning in and now did what she needed to for everyone else. Was she wondering that day how much time she'd have left, how long before she could reunite with the love of her life?

We stayed a couple extra days after the funeral and took Michael to the aquarium. When we returned to Utah, we found out that Lori was pregnant. We decided that if we were having a boy, his middle name would be Joseph after the child's great-grandfather he would never get to meet.

Despite the sadness of Grandpa's passing, this was generally a good fall. A year later, I'd be more stressed out than I would ever be in my life, culminating in me scaling back at the newspaper. I kept thinking of my grandfather for some guidance -- the endurance required to get what you needed to get done for the people you love. I wish I could have gotten that advice from him in person ...

The gray has set in a little in Salt Lake -- nothing like Chicago, but a definite indicator of November. This month is actually pretty nice here. Growing up, I always associated my birthday with gray, cold, and dark (and even a bit snowy). Since moving here, my birthday has been sunny for the most part; last year, Lori and I enjoyed lunch alfresco.

My grandmother would have been 86 this month. This is my first November without her. She outlived Grandpa by 10 years, but ultimately, the cancer that killed him was too much for her as well. They were tough, hard-working Chicagoans. I wonder how they made it through each November.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Autumns: 2

Have you ever reflected upon a certain period of your life and thought that it was the time when everything was clicking perfectly? I look at the fall of 2011 and think the stars were aligned. The summer going into that autumn was absolutely great. The streak continued through the fall. Ben was thriving as he started kindergarten, and Michael was enjoying second grade. I only coached Ben's soccer team that fall, but Michael was on an advanced rec team and learned so much -- it was one of the first times his natural athleticism that we take for granted now began to show through. I was getting steady freelance editing work and doing the NFL page for the newspaper on Sundays. Popcorn was in the height of her puppyhood and was so much fun.

Of course, it didn't last.

The first autumn I truly have flashback-type memories of in 1979, when I was in fourth grade. I do remember football on Halloweens from earlier falls, but it wasn't until the end of the decade that the experiences took hold beyond the normal reminiscences and into true moments in which something random triggers a strong memory. That's odd, because I can go take summers back to 1975, winters and spring to 1976. Fall never made an impact until fourth grade.

I've written about this autumn before, but I can't find the post to link. There was a leaf project for school. My great-grandfather who I barely knew died. Mom bought me an Old Farmer's Almanac. The Eagles were on the radio, a lot. The Bears didn't suck and made the playoffs. I experienced my first sleepover at a friend's house.

In fall 2015, Ben is a fourth-grader. Already.

Lori and I had been living for three years in Madison, and we were starting to believe that maybe we would be there for the long haul -- so much so that we were looking at houses. We weren't quite ready to buy, but we probably could have swung it. We didn't have much debt, and at the time, we were loving Madison.

The first house we looked at was the one we fell in love with. It was on Sunset Court, which was four streets that formed a square, all with the same street name. Once we finally figured that out, we found the house and loved it. It was maybe 50 or 60 years old, wooden house, nice upstairs with a room that was too tall to stand in but perfect for a kids' playroom. The block was filled with large trees and had a park in the middle, and the house's yard was big. It was within walking distance of our parish; our kids could have theoretically walked to Catholic school. We knew we shouldn't fall for the first house we see, but everything we saw after it wasn't the same.

A few months later, we financed a second car, not realizing it would reduce the borrowing power we'd have for a house. The $130K houses weren't as appealing as the $175K, so we backed off. Soon, we'd both get antsy about our jobs and realized it was time to go, a decision made easier by the fact we didn't own a house.

Though I wouldn't trade our highway for anything, because it delivered us to the life and family we have now, I wonder how much different life would have been if we took a bold step and bought the house on Sunset Court. We'd likely have two teenagers by now. We would have lived through the small tornado that hit Madison a few years after we left. I would have raked a lot. I can't pinpoint the house on Zillow, but likely, it would be worth around $300K. Not that we would have sold because it would have been our neighborhood. Just like we aren't selling our current house in SLC, because it is our neighborhood and we love it.

Nothing has quite clicked this fall. Vacation was nice but ended too fast. I seem to be always anxious about something. I found out last week that our parish's athletic director goofed up and promised another parent the chance to coach Ben's basketball team. That just seemed to pile on everything else.

I'm sitting on the porch writing this, and it's been unnaturally warm tonight. A windstorm is supposed to blow in and the temps are forecast to drop. It's Nov. 2, yet I haven't needed to rake yet -- our linden still has most of its leaves (which hardly changed colors this fall), and the maple still has about of a quarter of its red leaves. The timetable just isn't making sense.