She sighed when the seasonal photograph popped up on Facebook: graceful trees dappled in sunlight were covered and surrounded by the foliage of several months’ attachment, scarcely a hue of green discernible in the rampant spectacle of color. Still, she sighed. It is September, after all, with all that September means.
September is the second bookend in that set of two meant to provide some semblance of organization and memory of a summer well-lived and so fleetingly-savored. The kick-off celebration closed out May with bands marching through every town large and small and the world awash in red, white, and blue remembrance. A flick of the calendar page revealed June with hearts and voices exclaiming, “Finally!” September, however, even with its own long holiday weekend, evoked a wistfully-reluctant, “Already?”
Seventy preceding Septembers have taught her that any September can be an incorrigible tease, with a couple of well-placed throwback summer days to lull and lure and string her along, only to be jolted back to reality by more than a nip in the air, designed to send her scurrying for sensible shoes and a light jacket.
But after the freewheeling excesses of summer, September nudges her back into line, bringing her to her senses. September is a second chance at resolutions to do better in what is left of the year. When the kids start a whole new year of school with new schedules, new lessons, and new teachers, almost everyone also turns over a new leaf – autumnally speaking, of course.
September has always meant school for her. From her very first Goldenrod tablet and a cigar box filled with crayons and paste clutched under her arm as she climbed the stairs to her first grade classroom through an entire adulthood spent in a sprawling school planted in a former cornfield – only briefly interrupted by glorious, momentous years at a tiny, ivy-covered college and the world beyond – September has always meant school.
The very best part of all those Septembers was the return of the students. They rushed and clamored and, yes, dawdled their way back to her classroom, clad in their tans and sun-streaked hair and marginally-acceptable fashions of summer. As much as she welcomed the reappearance of her older students, taller and more mature with each passing year, it was the arrival of each new crop of freshmen that invigorated her. Each September she was a whole year older than the lot of them. And each September the gap grew more pronounced, eventually leaving her fifty years wiser and less adventuresome than the young people to whom she had committed her professional life. Bittersweet now, the absence of a classroom pulsing with the vibrancy of youth. September has become the poignant month.
One morning almost twenty Septembers ago, as crisp and bright as any September could be – just eleven days in – the unthinkable changed the world in ways still incomprehensible to most. The newness of each September since, full of promise for a fresh start and new vitality, is annually blighted by sadness. Each successive September places her another year from that searing event, a year further on the timeline of history but not an hour or a minute further in her still-aching heart.
Actually, however, she needs no calendar, no Facebook photo, no manmade reminder that September is back. She has only to spy browning cornstalks just beyond the backyard fence. She has only to sweep gold-tinged magnolia leaves from her front porch after a vigorous rainstorm. She has only to realize that the impatiens and geraniums, chosen months ago during an inevitable bout of spring fever, are dwindling in preparation for the mums to follow.
But it has always been the September sun keeping her current. Oh, how she reveled in the countless long days, the sun and its rays moving ever northward and waking her each morning to a world awash in light, her whole body set for accomplishment. Now, however, that same heavenly body is marching irrevocably in the opposite direction, slowing her a bit and cooling her daily ardor. Although the approaching autumnal equinox has placed the sun at the halfway point in her sky, she is fully aware that the dark mornings – when creeping from under a warm blanket will become a chore – those mornings are just around the corner. That, too, is September.
Of late, however, she has realized another aspect of the ever-kaleidoscopic September. Somehow, traditional photos by proud parents documenting yet another first-day-of-school for their offspring became intertwined with pictures from her sister’s 50th high school reunion. Only then did it dawn upon her that she is also in the September of her time on this planet.
This meaning of September has its own set of bookends, holding special that time between the first job and retirement. This meaning of September is every bit as mercurial as its annual counterpart – with days of energetic anticipation ever more frequently diminished by the creaks and groans of age. This meaning of September encourages bucket list adventures perhaps tempered by bittersweet and poignant awareness that more lifetime has been expended than remains. Through it all, however, Mother Nature keeps her grounded with exquisite autumns and solar constancy, the hallmarks of every September she has ever experienced.
It’s September, she sighed; but it was a sigh of contentment and resolve and insight. After all, September has returned.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.