During my junior high and high school years — those post-war, pre-crazy years– Mom worked as a nurse and was out the door for her seven to three shift by 6:30. So it was Dad who rousted us out of bed at 7:15 and prepared delicious bowls of creamy oatmeal, which we called porridge. Dad’s porridge was delicious to me, anyway. My younger sister’s was always too hot- probably not enough milk. My brother’s was too cold- too much milk. (Oops, mixing up my stories a bit here here…) Both siblings preferred cold cereal, but the pantry often dictated Dad’s choice. However, with the freedom to sprinkle or dump as much sugar on top as I pleased, this “Brownielocks” loved the sweet softness of the hot oats, with just the right amount of milk. The whole kitchen smelled of morning and warmth and security.
It was a routine we could count on. In it I found comfort.
Why such a random tidbit snipped from my way-more-interesting past? Because long-gone smells and textures hold thoughts and emotions inside them. My oatmeal memory succinctly and clearly captures the desire all children share–a desire to connect with Dad. You see, mine didn’t talk during those breakfasts. Maybe we were all “morningmute,” dumb from sleepiness. But somehow I felt compelled to connect. I often did this the only way that seemed possible at the time. By matching the rhythmic pace of his eating with my own spoonfuls. He would pray a blessing on the food and then begin a steady pattern. If he hadn’t been such a neat and orderly man, one might have called it shoveling. But after each generous spoonful, the tiny drop of milk which remained on the edge of his lower lip would be quickly blended into the next, thus making the process quite unmessy.
What tugged on his mind while he ate “on autopilot?” Was he across town dealing with a car part? Chores? He was known for doing the dishes and vacuuming and dusting before 8:30. Or were pressing issues awaiting him at the office? Well, I knew what played on my mind. To keep up with his spooning, stoke for stroke. Scoop, lift, gulp, swallow; scoop, lift, gulp, swallow– all in one seamless flow of motion. Make fast work of breakfast? You bet! It never crossed my mind to time us, but I’m guessing it was about two and a half minutes, total. And funny, he never seemed to notice that I was pacing him. He never slowed down or sped up, to enjoy the game. He just ate, oblivious to me.
Like rickety shutters on ancient windows, the most minute memories are portals to thoughts and emotions stashed under some musty couch, further inside. These memories help us sort out both yesterday’s issues as well as today’s.
So we remember.
I like to think of this present part of life as the morning of my autumn season. Morning is forward-looking, the day ahead perched on your counter like a luscious, chilled watermelon, begging to be cut and eaten. Or yummy hot oatmeal ready for the spoon!
Autumn, though, with shorter days, chilly evenings, the pungent smoke of bonfires and the moist aroma of fallen leaves, brings a flood of memories- memories mixed with questions and ponderings.
Aging is not easy. Life is not easy. But, in some ways these are the best of times. The kids are gone. Who cares if you hit snooze twice, or go out to eat three nights in a row? Choices abound. It’s time to enjoy the youth you didn’t always know what to do with when you were young.
We all have a legacy to share. I invite you to share yours here as you read mine.
So the words written here comprise a combination of memories savored and lessons learned, with the optimism of possibilities and untapped potential. In any season life is hard work; but whether you’re a morning person or not, morning in autumn is a great place to be.