AUTUMN IN THE AIR
by Cheryl Unruh
It was a crisp autumn day. I was in junior high.
My 16-year-old brother shuffled his football from one hand to the other.
“Do you want to play catch?” he asked.
I winced. For a long time, I had avoided any and all sports with my brother.
Leon and I did not play well together. Every game that he and I attempted since I was about 5-years-old had turned into an argument or a fight. It didn’t matter whether the game was baseball, soccer or football.
But something in the autumn air that day begged me to grab his football and attempt the perfect spiral.
So we played catch on our dirt street in the small town of Pawnee Rock, Kansas.
As we tossed the ball back and forth, Leon told me about high school. He explained everything in that all-knowing way that big brothers have. Leon answered my questions- he listened to me.
This was wild. We were having a conversation. A conversation! My brother had turned into a human being.
One autumn hour was spent casually tossing a football with my brother. But that one hour changed everything between us.
Every fall, that afternoon comes to mind because memories are embedded in the seasons. You may have forgotten a person or an event until it is triggered by something as simple as the slant of light, the taste of air, the length of day.
As the seasons change, our memories are refreshed. Our minds return year after year to those favorite moments.
Midwesterners love having four seasons, and fall is one of the favorites.
Autumn feels like a homecoming. Fall brings us cotton sweaters and corduroy jackets. It gives us baked apple crisp and pumpkin pies.
October air is as shiny as new glass. The sun pours down and burns orange onto maple leaves. Red sumac runs wild in the ditches.
On chilly evenings, fall is the smell of wood smoke drifting from neighborhood chimneys. Autumn is the dust that filters through your socks while you rake leaves.
Out in the country, you might hear the whine of a chain saw, the slicing up of downed trees, the thud of logs landing on the metal bed of a pickup.
The tingly air and the plaid shirts of autumn make me want to find my brother and toss a football again.
No question about it, fall means football. And there’s nothing like a home game on a Friday night to return us to our center of gravity.
Inside this cluster of stadium lights, the energy pulses. The high school band seems to be all brass and percussion and the sound carries into the cool, dark night.
Steam rises from Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate. The announcer’s voice rides on the chilly air. In the stands, boys flirt with girls and girls flirt with boys.
“Defense,” the cheerleaders chant over and over. Helmets and shoulder pads crash together. Players grunt.
Fans cheer and shout, applaud and groan. On these autumn nights, the hometown crowd is like a family, rising and falling, responding in unison.
And for the evening, for the moment, all that matters in the world is under this huddle of lights.