Thoughts for Fall
Life started out briskly the other morning.
Dried poplar leaves twirled a foot above our driveway.
Silhouettes of dark clouds were on the horizon.
“LAST CALL,” read a handwritten sign at the sweet corn stand.
“What?” I thought. “They are flashing the lights on and off already?”
Instead of giving mouth to mouth to my once vibrant impatiens, I ripped them out of the dirt by their long legs and put away their pots.
My Sweet Sven’s calling in life is to gain knowledge. He likes facts.
And so this sentence came out of his perfectly formed lips.
“Hey Millie, did you know that we are going to lose two minutes of daylight every morning and every night this month?”
“It’s already Daylight Savings time?” I gasped.
“What? No. In September we will lose an hour and a half of daylight.”
Because of these harsh words, I, me, Millie Noe, now have a hankering to can my garden.
I don’t mean can it, like kick the can down the road.
I don’t mean can it, like doing the Can-Can.
I mean chop it all up. Put it in jars. Seal the lids shut in a double boiler. And stack them in the pantry.
Which is really weird, because I don’t have a garden. I don’t have a pantry. And I don’t can.
Question: Why is there life?
Millocrates: Life is nothing more than a record album.
We all come out, hot off the press, screaming at the top of our lungs, with the same amount of play time, which is 876,000 hours.
I don’t mean to brag, but I was once in a rock and roll band.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly a rock and roll band.
I mean, we didn’t play any instruments.
I guess I should say, that I was once, one half of a duo. My friend Sue and I got to sing before my brother and his buddy Bruce, took the stage.
They had real instruments. Well, I should clarify. My brother had a real guitar and Bruce had a rubber practice drum pad. But his drum sticks were real. Bruce’s parents weren’t willing to invest in all that noise until he proved himself worthy.
But stardom cannot always wait for parents.
“Uh-oh,” I said and dropped the bag of groceries.
I thought she was right behind me.
I was afraid to look, out of fear that she would be hanging onto the door handle, with with her feet flying straight out behind her.
Or worse yet, she’d let go and was sprawled out on the wet grass, in the middle of the yard.
I could see through the little window, that the trees were still bent in half.
I wondered for a split second, how long it would take an ambulance to get there.
“Mom!” I yelled and headed for the door.
“Do you want to take a road trip?” I’d asked her a few weeks before.
“You and me?” she’d said.
“Yeah. I have a couple of vacation days and Sven is too busy to take off.”
“Where did you want to go?”
“I was thinking of Copper Harbor.”
“Didn’t you have a bad experience there?”
She was right.
I was in Copper Harbor one other time in my life. I was with Sven and it was in August. It was our anniversary and things hadn’t gone so well.
We’d rented a cabin on sight, right on the main drag, next to a bar. The floors tilted and the refrigerator was so old that at five feet two inches tall, I towered over it.
When I was in grade school, I loved math. Who didn’t like those multiplication flash cards? I would yell out the answer to six times eight, before the whole equation was even fully exposed. I was just like one of those annoying people you see on Jeopardy, who hit the buzzer before Alex Trebek is even done reading the question. If an adult were to ask me, “Millie, what is your favorite subject?” I would very firmly say, “Gym.” And then if they were to say, “Well, your favorite subject, after gym?” I would immediately answer, “Art.” And then if they were to continue with, “Your favorite subject after gym and art?” I would answer, “Math.”
And adults seemed impressed by this.
“Oh, she likes math. Did you hear that?”
But after having mastered the time tables, almost like a genius, came division.
They tried to make division look like it was going to be a lot of fun by drawing that big seven up on the chalk board, so we would think that we were going to play a game of hangman. For those of you who don’t know about the big seven, it was called long division. And for those of you who have not played hangman, I pity you.
One minute we were hanging upside down from the monkey bars with pigtails and pixie cuts, singing, “It’s about time. It’s about space. It’s about your, ugly face.” And then it was 1975 and the eve of our high school graduation.
Our class partied over night, beginning the day before the ceremony, in a park by the lake, where I slept on one of two benches that were set at a ninety degree angle. I was head to head with a guy I’d always had a little bit of a crush on. That was the last time I ever saw him and our final conversation, before we slipped into acoma, was about the big dipper.
The next morning I wandered into the house, looking like shit and my mother was all like, “Call Jason. He’s been dialing this number every half hour. And where have you been?”
“Sleeping on a park bench.”
Here is the thing.
In 1975 you were legally an adult at eighteen and I’d been eighteen for two and a half months. I was practically middle aged. So, if I chose to sleep on a park bench, I could sleep on a park bench.
Life then, was nothing like it is now. We all spent the night in that park and the only person who was upset about it, was my boyfriend.
Later that day. I met up with the rest of my class in the gym and all four hundred of us marched into the stadium with our headaches and our gowns. We listened to speeches. We walked up on stage. We shook hands with a bunch of men and women in suits and we were handed our diplomas. Back in our seats, we moved our tassels over to the left and then we threw our caps into the air, all at the same time.
“Is everybody ready?” she said.
And then the instructor pressed a button on the radio. sitting next to the pool. The music began.
“Oh crap,” I thought. “Not the YMCA.” As easy as it should be, I always screw it up by the time I get to the C.
And no, I have not been practicing for the last thirty some years.
My poor mom was out of the pool, next to the dark haired diva in a bikini, who was robustly dancing to the outdated tune. She was facing her students, including me and my sisters, Louisa and Ki-Ki and another twenty or so, unfamiliar faces.
Mom was pulled out of the water to ‘co-teach’ the class, after Carla realized that forty-five minutes of vigorous water aerobics was a lot for a seventy-three year old woman with an injured arm.
Four months earlier, my mother had slipped on ice in her driveway, while retrieving the morning paper.
Well, she didn’t get to read the news until that afternoon and by then she was nauseas from oxycodone and was wearing a sling.
But that was nothing.
Unbeknownst to all of us, it happened to be one of the last few days of my dad’s life.
If you haven’t lost your father, I highly do NOT, recommend it.
It is true, as the saying goes, that the only guarantee there is in life, is that it will end.
After the initial shock, came the tears.
Many tears were shed.
Buckets and buckets of them.
Something had to give.
Somehow we needed to turn off the faucet and stop the steady flow of sad, even if just for a little while.
That’s when I came up with an idea.
“Let’s go to sunny, sunny, Mexico,” I said, staring out at the blinding snow.
And then it all began.
My sister Ki-Ki, who lives in Atlanta would meet the three of us coming from Wisconsin, for five, all inclusive, glorious days of mom and sister fun in the sun, in the Riviera Maya.
Did you know that you are not supposed to crack a smile when they snap your passport photo?
That’s what the guy said at Walgreens.
And did you know that it is impossible not to laugh when someone points a camera at you and says, “Don’t smile.”
Well, after several failed attempts, he got a picture that he said would do. I look like I am from Romania.
Last week was the finale of our Friday night mixed curling league.
The club was full of excitement, what with all the sweeping and all the taking out of rocks and then the big tie that Sven broke when the two skips each threw one stone to claim victory and Sven’s rock landed closest to the center of the house.
“Good Curling,” we all said, and shook hands.
Following proper curling etiquette, we had a drink in the club house with the opposing team.
And when we finally got home, we weren’t a bit sleepy.
Na-ah, no way.
We were ready to rock and roll.
The car was parked safely in the garage and the keys were hanging securely on the hook. What could possibly go wrong? We are responsible, level headed adults, who just so happened to be sitting around the living room, with a fire crackling in the wood stove. Hunter was snoring at our feet, as we sipped on some Jagermeister and rehashed our past, like it was all brand new shit, the way old drunk people do.
That’s when I noticed the clock.
I squinted my eyes to be sure.
“Sven, it’s two,” I said.
“In the morning?” he says.
So, the three of us traipsed up the stairs. Hunter, the last in line, took his first post outside the bedroom door, while I brushed my teeth. He waits there until I get into bed before circling on the rug next to the bed where he will land with a thud, and remain for the rest of the night to keep us safe from, we aren’t sure what, by howling and causing a God awful ruckus, until Sven finally yells, “HUNTER, SHUT UP!”
I noticed that something looked amiss in the reflection of the bathroom mirror.
I whipped around with my toothbrush still in my mouth to see what I thought I’d seen, Sven, sitting on the bed, messing around with a, r-i-f-l-e.
He was five. He had freckles and he liked to climb trees.
I was five. I didn’t have any freckles. And I liked to climb trees too.
He was going to be a fireman and I was leaning towards becoming an astronaut.
We both liked boys and we were planning to marry and raise thirteen of them.
His name was Danny.
No. Not you, Danny.
And Danny was REALLY funny.
He was the first and only mime I have ever known. He could hold a nonexistent needle in one hand and no thread in the other and pull that invisible string through that imaginary teeny-tiny hole in that needle and then stick the sharp end of that fake thing into the outside of one nostril and then pull it through his nose and then out the other side of his other nostril. Then he would take what you could almost see in each hand and he’d pull it back and forth and back and forth and those nostrils of his would flare out one at a time, following whatever direction he pulled that nothing in.