Only now, well into November, are we starting to feel the chill of Fall in the desert. Long nights descend, and although full of sunshine and 80 degrees, the days are short, and temperatures quickly plummet under the heavy blanket of darkness. At high noon in the warm sunshine, it can be easy to forget when and where we are in our path around the sun. Not fooled by the heat, the fig tree hears the silent call in waning daylight. Her brown leaves flutter to the ground and remind me, the native Midwesterner, that yes, Autumn is here.
I had different signals in my childhood, and one of them was freezing my ass off at the bus stop every morning after about the third week in September. But if that wasn’t enough of a hint,all I had to do was look at my grandmother’s door.
She was not a devout person in a religious sense, but she believed in corn. Every year she hung dried ears of corn to mark the season, the colorful kind commonly referred to as Indian Corn before such titles were considered potentially offensive. She hung it on the door to her double wide when I was a young girl, her apartment when I was a bit older, and in the hallway in her assisted living facility when I was older yet. Year after year, despite her changing circumstances, the corn reappeared.
Last year at this time, my mother had been discharged to hospice. She was dying, and it was the last autumn she would ever know. Her legs were swollen with fluid and she walked with a wide, awkward gait. But she pulled out a managed to pull out a trio of colorful ears from a storage box and waddle out the front door.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“Hanging some corn” she replied.
This year my mother is dead, and my grandmother is plunging deep into her dementia in a group home in Sun City. She doesn’t have a door to hang her corn on; she doesn’t remember this old habit that was part of her annual routine for decades. Fall is here, and for the first time in my life I want some corn for my front door. A thread to tie through the generations, despite being severed by illness and death; an organic symbol of where I came from.