It’s that time of year again, even here in South Texas, when the sounds, if not the sights, of fall are all around us. The crisp, clear air amplifies the cheering crowds and marching bands of nearby football games, transports the wailing whistles and rushing rails of traveling trains in the distance, and interrupts afternoon naps with the incessant whir of neighborhood leaf blowers. As temperatures cool and the sun sits lower in the sky, children laugh and squeal outside in the last moments of daylight. Soon it will be too dark to ride their bikes in the cul-de-sac or even to go out alone to trick-or-treat. Soon, everyone will be hunkered down for the winter, such as it is in South Texas.
What with shortages of beef and poultry, container ships with toys and clothes from China sitting idle off coastal ports, and higher prices on everything everywhere, it’s that time of year, particularly this year, to get a jump on the holidays. (We just ordered our 9 foot artificial Christmas tree from Balsam Hill while it’s still in stock.) Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, this year’s candidate for the grinch who is trying to steal Christmas, just announced that first-class mail delays are to be expected starting October 1. Call me crazy, but didn’t those delays begin ages ago? My cards and letters to the Coasts from Texas have been taking five to ten days for a while now, and a small gift from a friend sent via USPS recently took over three weeks to arrive from Connecticut. Obviously, those of us who still send out holiday cards need to get a move on; at this point, we’re probably already too late to send Halloween surprises and are even cutting it close for Thanksgiving!
Speaking of holidays, this coming Monday, the second Monday in October, is Columbus Day, as it has been known since the 1930s. Originally intended to give working people a three-day holiday weekend, it was not officially made a US holiday until 1968. Commemorating the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492, Columbus Day is one of eleven official federal holidays, although it is only observed by about half the states. Non-essential government offices, banks, post offices, and some other civil services are closed everywhere (as are schools in those states where the holiday is observed), but the stock market and most regular businesses are open. In recent years, the growing controversy over Columbus and his discovery has caused some states and even cities (including Washington D.C.) to change the name of their holiday observance to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in honor of the native Americans who were already here when European explorers arrived.
In the Northeastern United States, Columbus Day is almost universally observed and celebrated, especially among Italian Americans who have been celebrating it since the 1860s. The long Columbus Day weekend, generally regarded as the fulcrum of the season, is eagerly anticipated by adults and children alike. “Leaf-peepers” pile into their cars and SUVs and take off on country byways into the hills and mountains of New England in search of Mother Nature’s most vivd last hurrah. Local newspapers and televisions stations actually list “color indexes” for the best routes to follow. Everyone knows it’s that time of year for a final outing before the frenzy of the Christmas holidays ensues and the dark days of winter keep us indoors.
My birthday also falls on this weekend, as it often does, and yes, for many years, I was among the leaf- peepers traveling upstate Connecticut in search of old country inns, hot apple cider and plentiful pumpkins along our favorite autumn trail. Those day trips inspired me, offered me a brief respite in a calendar year rapidly coming to a close, even as they reminded me that I, too, with each birthday was closing in on the fall and winter seasons of my own life.
As usual, my birthday makes me contemplative and circumspect. It’s just that time of year.