Fall has long been my favorite time of year. The air cools. The leaves show their true colors. And I crave comfort food.
Growing up in the Carolinas left its mark on me in many ways. I’ve spent most of my life on the coast of California, but I’ve never lost my love for fall.
One of my earliest memories is of an autumn day when I was 4 or 5, visiting my grandparents on their farm in the mountains of North Carolina. It was raining when I arrived. Clouds filled the valley like smoke from a fire.
My grandmother assured me the rain would stop soon and we could go for a walk and pick flowers. I loved doing both of those things with her. So I sat in the porch swing, gliding to and fro, waiting for the rain to stop.
Just when I thought it would rain forever, the clouds parted, the sun broke through and the mountains lit up like Christmas.
I wish you could’ve seen them.
Suddenly, I noticed something strange. In the distance, near the tops of the ridges, trees had turned a fiery red.
I ran inside and told my grandmother, “Come quick! The mountains are on fire!”
She hurried after me to take a look. Then she laughed.
“That’s not fire,” she said. “That’s just God painting the leaves for fall.”
I asked for futher clarification. Basically, she said, in the fall, as days grow shorter and cooler, leaves start to lose their chlorophyl — the stuff that makes them green — and we begin to see their true colors, red and orange and yellow.
“So,” I said, “you mean God doesn’t really paint them?”
“It’s a manner of speaking,” she said. “When God paints, he doesn’t always use a brush.”
We took a long walk, telling stories and jumping puddles. On the way back, we picked flowers from her garden — dahlias as big and golden as a baby’s head and gardenias that smelled better than anything on Earth.
Then we went inside, where she started supper on her old wood stove — cornbread and beans and, yes, peach cobbler — while I arranged the dahlias and gardenias in a jar.
It doesn’t take much to make a child feel special. I doubt I’ve ever felt more special than I did with my grandmother.
Today, I decided to write a column about fall. I had no idea where it would take me. I just knew I wanted to write about it. So I began. And it took me to a place that I left long ago, the mountains where I was born.
Some of us feel a connection to the land where we grew up — to mountains and rivers and lakes and plains — that is as real and as binding as anything we’ll ever feel for flesh and blood.
I found myself missing my grandmother and her kitchen and her dahlias and gardenias. Not to mention, her cornbread and beans and peach cobbler.
Just then, I heard a knock at the door. I thought my husband had locked himself out. He does that sometimes. Imagine my surprise to open the door to my 7-year-old grandson and his mama. Henry wanted to show me the doorbell they’d bought for Halloween, a skeleton’s face with a sticking-out tongue.
“Push the button, Nana,” he said, grinning. So I did, and the skeleton licked my finger. But the main reason they stopped by was to bring me a gift.
“When I saw these,” said my daughter, “I thought of you and wanted you to have them.”
Dahlias and gardenias. I arranged them in a glass jar and set them on the table.
I wish you could smell them.
It doesn’t take much to make me feel special. My daughter knows me well.
The best gifts are like the best memories: They remind us that we are known and we are loved.
They show us our true colors.
Maybe I’ll make cornbread and beans for supper. And top it off with peach cobbler.
(Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.)