Beth Alston: Leaves will fall, as will tears
It’s that time of year again. It’s officially still summer, but you can feel autumn approaching. The azure blue skies of summer take on a somewhat milky hue and there’s a slight tinge of coolness in the early, early mornings. Even the full moon appears with a different sheen of its face in the night’s sky. It’s coming: the gentle, awesome changing of the season. The leaves will turn, beginning their slow path toward death, and fall to the ground or be blown by gentle winds.
While I love the aroma of freshly dug peanuts wafting across the landscape, the portent of fall always makes me melancholy, possibly because it reminds me of returning to school after those carefree summers of childhood.
When I was a kid, we didn’t resume school until after Labor Day. Some of my friends couldn’t wait to return to class. That sure wasn’t the case at the Alston house. Neither I nor my brothers were ready to go back. We too much enjoyed sleeping until 9 a.m. and watching TV late, playing outside until after dark and just making our summers up as we went along. Those were innocent times.
My first indication that I had it better than most came at the tender age of 12. My older brother Ron was being shipped out of state to military school. My younger brother Dennis and I were horrified that we might be next. We had surreptitiously eavesdropped on several heart-felt counseling sessions over the previous summer between our parents and the older sibling. Yes, he was going away. We didn’t know for how long; we just knew it was only a matter of time before he left.
I rode with my parents and brother and trunk and books, etc. to deliver him to the new school. That was a very quiet ride. The four of us seemed gripped in a tense silence, a deep dread. When we arrived on campus, which was beautiful, we saw other parents unloading the belongings of their sons. You see, several parents in my native county had decided this school represented a great opportunity for their sons, so it wasn’t like my brother would be completely among strangers, but still….
We later said our good-byes. I don’t recall now if I hugged him or not, but I’m sure my mother must have. Her first-born was leaving the nest, albeit against his will.
As we drove along the tree-lined driveway toward the gates to the campus, I looked back. That was the first time in my life I had ever experienced utter, abject loss. My brother stood just where we had left him, looking longingly at his family slowly disappearing. He didn’t cry. My handsome, brave, intelligent, sensitive and sweet brother did not cry, at least not then. I had never felt what I was feeling. It simply overwhelmed me to the point I thought I would suffocate. I did shed tears, the bitter and confused tears of pre-adolescence. I hid my tears from my parents in the front seat.
If I thought the ride over was quiet, the ride back home was absolutely tomb-like. We probably stopped on the way home to eat something, but I’m sure I had no appetite.
It was twilight when we got home. I went straight to bed. My younger brother wanted details, but I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling.
It was fairly quiet around our household for the next week or so, until we started back to school. Eventually things got back to “normal,” whatever that is. My brother the cadet got his first weekend pass about a month later. He met us as we got off the school bus that Friday afternoon. He wore his uniform and his head was shaved. I thought I would die of love at that moment. He had changed, but only on the outside. The other kids on the bus were calling out his name and waving. It was good.
My brother would spend three years at that school where he made some great friends, on campus and off. When he graduated high school, at another school back in Georgia, because of his ROTC background, he would be a prime candidate for Vietnam. Fortunately, he had a medical problem which deferred him.
Yes, this time of year calls up ghosts, and not the Halloween type.
Beth Alston is executive editor of the Americus Times-Recorder. Contact her at 229-924-2751, ext. 1529 or firstname.lastname@example.org