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.


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