I can feel its approach every minute of every day. Autumn. Lily, the 14-year-old person inside, can feel it, too. The hours of daylight decline. Tomorrow will give back 3 minutes and 1 second to the dark.
Still, the days are light for nearly 14 hours. The garden, though fading, is still colored with sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds, still yielding beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, zucchini and a small number of raspberries. Spaghetti squash yearns toward harvest, turning from pale green to gold in anticipation of the first frost. I will plant one last round of snow peas. Hopefully, they and the carrots planted August 7 will make it to maturity. The one surviving eggplant may yet set fruit from its single flower. As ever, life is both coming and going.
It’s a logical step to compare human lifespan to the seasons. Lily lives in early spring, myself in the waning days of summer. Maybe that’s why I feel the present change of seasons so powerfully.
When I was Lily’s age, the real-time girl on the outside instead of the one within, I was wrapping up a summer highlighted by a six-week theater workshop at Centrum, an arts and education organization located at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA. Our class met every day of the week, five students, ages 13 to 18. Our instructor, John Miller, was a theater professional from Seattle. John’s daily classes and rehearsals were supplemented by movement class with dancer Lyndy Caine and mime with Tim Elliott (if you’re old enough you may remember Tim from a Bluebell Potato Chip commercial in the mid-1970s).
Weeks of learning culminated in a street theater* show, The Bug Show. John selected the theme and we students wrote the script. It was a series of vignettes, mostly adapted from folktales and songs (The Brave Little Tailor, I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly, Little Miss Muffet, etc.). Most of the pieces had a humorous spin, in the style of Rocky and Bullwinkle. We had several performances around Fort Worden and a mini tour to two county fairs. My interest in theater had blossomed when I was 12; this workshop cemented my goal of one day becoming a professional actress.
The workshop ended, our troupe disbanded, Labor Day arrived. I started sophomore year, my first year at Port Townsend High School.
The school district had implemented a new requirement, starting with my class**. Few relished the thought of mandatory Sophomore English but it turned out to be different from the anticipated fare of verb tenses and diagrammed sentences. Our teacher, James Masao Mitsui, was a poet. His first poetry collection, Journal of the Sun, had just come out and was available at the Imprint Book Store, a new Port Townsend business established by Lyndy Caine, the woman who’d taught movement at the theater workshop. Two pieces of my world clicked together. Mr. Mitsui, instead of drilling us in grammar, had us keep journals as the core of our studies. Sophomore English magically transformed into creative writing. In my origin story as a writer, the positive feedback and encouragement I received from Mr. Mitsui is very near the beginning.
Summer and its glories will end, but something even better may surface in the fall. In fact, I know it will. This week I had a hard, heartbreaking duty to discharge: I applied for my Social Security survivor’s benefit. As I repeated all the information the administrator already had on file, the past 20 years of my life flashed before me. Remembering when Bruce and I first met, when we first performed together, when we first became a couple, our wedding, happy and sad times to follow, his death, my life since then. On the way out I paused in the parking lot, hugging our framed marriage certificate, feeling like a girl protecting a scrapbook dedicated to her favorite teen idol. No one can take this away from me.
Many belief systems view autumn as a time of renewal, for making plans to survive winter, welcome a new spring and experience the languid joys of summer when they come again. I know there are better times ahead because I’ve had good and sometimes wonderful days, not just sad ones, since Bruce’s passing. The gift of reconnecting with Lily, of reclaiming the person inside, has boosted my strength and my spirit. I am every age I have ever been. Together, we will make it.
* Per Wikipedia, Street Theater is a form of theatrical performance and presentation in outdoor public spaces without a specific paying audience. These spaces can be anywhere, including shopping centers, car parks, recreational reserves and street corners.
** Port Townsend High School Class of 1977. Hi, everybody!
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