Written by: Deb German
Autumn engages the senses. The distinct smell of dry foliage is the harbinger of what lies ahead, a last perfumed breath before the landscape lies frozen and dormant. Apples and pumpkins, wood smoke and conifers: these sensory reminders and others of their ilk take us by the hand (or grab us by the shoulders), and lead us down a pathway awash with memories, to our own cherished fall traditions, summer occasionally lingering awhile in the rear view mirror.
Some fall traditions persist with gathering intensity; college football is one of them, and in a particular Southern city I know, you can just about set your clocks by it. For many the stadium experience is all, the tailgate party requisite to deafening crowds, the protracted crawl home through unrelenting traffic—over land or down the river from which grew the city itself—a foregone conclusion.
There is something lost in the translation. Give me a plaid thermos, a wool blanket, and plain old bleachers on a grass field any crisp fall day of the week. Seen through the softened lens of nostalgia, that field is a place where the athlete scholar is alive and well, one piece of a landscape still in step with campus life as we once might have known it. Hyperbole lived in English Literature 101, maybe in the swagger of the big men on campus, but not in an oversized stadium looming against the horizon.
In this day and age that is a fantasy. But in this day and age, everything old is new again, it would seem. We who willingly engage in a love affair with the past can still enjoy it in the here and now. We can feel it in the stitched seams of a new-old leather ball, still made the way they once were, or hear it in the unmistakable sound of a needle dropped on spinning vinyl, the music possessing a textural richness digital technology can never hope to match—and yet the same technology can digitize that analog sound precisely. (Props to a company who makes them like they used to, and better still.)
Something magical happens with the passage of time: we grow up. To have longed for an object is one thing, to hold it in your hand (or sit astride it) quite something else. Or maybe you once held it, and it was lost. No one else’s permission or patronage is required now: only your own unrelenting passion for the things you want. The vintage baseball bat, the motor scooter, even the slot car set—they are all yours for the taking.
It is fall. The singular experience of blasting through a torrent of bright yellow leaves on an empty paved road in late-day sunlight, the soft cadence of dry vegetation against the windshield, or brushing your face: that is poetry through and through. A delicious autumn ritual fashioned by nature herself, it evokes a wistful nostalgia for reasons hard to explain. However ordinary the real trappings and traditions of the past, the mind’s eye stubbornly replaces them with imagery softened by the tincture of time. And however you define your own memories, there is no time like the present to enjoy cherished objects from the past.