Thursday, October 29, 2009

When the party's over

White flakes were drifting to the ground outside my window yesterday morning, and the soggy leaves heaped in our front yard wore a silvery trim of frost. It looked festive, but nobody was tempted to play in that heavy mass of foliage. When the weather was still dry, the boys had raked a pile of enviable dimensions, and they had waded through the crisp leaves, buried each other in them, jumped into the middle of them, tossed them above their heads in handfuls to flutter downward like excitable birds and alight on the brown lawn. But when rain fell (as it always does in October), the autumnal celebration ended.

Tuesday night marked the end of my boys' soccer season, and I can't pretend that I am sorry. This weather has dampened my team spirit. The trees in the distance were pale with snow as we stood huddled on the sleet-saturated grass to watch red-cheeked second graders chase a very wet black and white ball. Jonah complained of numb toes. Paul and Jude, retaining precious body heat with a blue fleece blanket, slouched in the double stroller to keep out of the wind. Asaph's nose ran. I could not feel my fingers. We cheered and clapped, but not with the usual energy; our applause were stifled to lifeless thuds by winter gloves.

That soccer game ended not a moment too soon. But then we raised our eyes above the muddy grass and saw that, against this dim and chilly fadeout of the season, the sun, as it sank, was shooting a blast of pink light across the sky, setting the gray clouds and the snow-dusted hills on fire. The unexpected gala of color overhead seemed to revive a bit of the celebratory spirit as we vacated the darkening field. The whole scene reminded me, just a little, of that sense of anticlimax, when the last shower of sparks fizzles to black; when the show is over; when the crowds quietly prepare to leave—and then, out of dull silence, the echoing barrage of canon fire pounds against my rib cage, and the night explodes into a pyrotechnic grande finale.

Which just goes to show that you should never hang up your party hat too soon.

Two weeks ago, when an early freeze threatened our garden, I thought the end of this year's ingathering had come. I had finally resigned myself to the untimely demise of my tomatoes, picking the last of the green orbs from most of the withered vines. But one tenacious plant was still in full, flourishing leaf and laden with so many unripe tomatoes, I couldn't bear to strip it of its fruit and leave it to die. (One can only stomach so many fried green tomatoes.) I dug it up with its roots, transplanted it to a roomy red pot, and moved into my living room. There it went into shock; its leaves shriveled and grew brittle, and again, I thought its time had come. But it stayed, weighted down by the unrealized crop on its branches, and I waited. During the days that followed, an unanticipated second harvest ensued. Every one of those lovely tomatoes took on a pale orange hue—and then a promising pink, and then a flaming Roma red. The second ripening seemed more robust and welcome than the first. It took me by surprise.

When I turned the insignificant age of 31 last week, my family gave me some of the presents I'd had on my wish list. My husband took me out to dinner—just him, me, and a couple of plates of enchiladas. We had some good conversation, some decent margaritas, some fried ice cream. Fun, but nothing fancy. When we returned home, my husband held the door for me, and shouts of "Mommeeee!" sounded from the kitchen. With a screeching of chair legs on tile and a stampede of small feet, my sons rounded the corner and bombarded me with strawberry cupcakes and packages of chocolate and licorice and cards scrawled with misspelled birthday greetings. My sons were breathless with delight at having caught me off guard. The whole birthday was perfectly pleasant, and the party ended with a cheery bang.

My mom-in-law was still staying with us last Friday when my parents left town for the weekend. My grandmother, who lives with them, had just returned from a long trip, so my husband suggested that we go out to dinner one more time while we had our free babysitter and should stop to visit Grannie on our way to the restaurant. Sounded like a well planned evening to me. How well planned I little suspected.

When we arrived at my parents' house, instead of meeting my grandmother, I was greeted with shouts of "Surprise!" and with the laughing faces of some of my oldest and best friends. What began—and ended—as a birthday of little importance blazed back into life to become a birthday I will savor and smile about for years to come. Bursts of fiery color filled the vases on the table. Unanticipated gifts rested on the hearth. Ruby wine filled our glasses. And the food! My husband had conspired with one of our multitalented acquaintances* to present the twelve of us with a stunning eight-course Japanese dinner. I will not describe it, except to say that I cannot imagine enjoying a meal more. And is there any table fellowship that compares to the easy company of friends kept since childhood?

The snow may be falling, but lately I am starting to wonder if an unforeseen Indian Summer might burn through the clouds at any moment. This has been a week full of unexpected gifts. Of waking from sleep. Of gaiety revived. Of beauty for ashes. Don't put away your party hat just yet.


*Lisa B, for those who want to know


Carissalayla said...

I am glad you had such a wonderful birthday! Tell Jayson to inform Jeremy that I want a little celebration myself!

Erika said...

Sounds like you know how to party!

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