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My grandmother Verna had the teeniest, most scarred, but also most hard-working fingers I’ve ever seen. I remember her hands threading needles and slaving away at her ancient, bulky black sewing machine. After a three-hour car ride, during which I inevitably got car sick, I felt the relief of arriving at Grandma’s house to see the old 1950s black New Home sewing machine sitting near the window, with scraps of cloth lying all over the bed or card table. Grandma collected these scraps all year long.
She raised, butchered and sold her own chickens during the summer to save up pennies and purchase fabric when autumn came around. I loved these trips to Grandma’s house in the fall. I loved the clean, crisp smells in the air, the family gathering around to pitch in for Thanksgiving dinner, and the anticipation, waiting to see Grandma Verna’s newest quilt. These patches of memory are etched on my heart like quilt squares, resurfacing every year when the leaves start to change color. Memories of autumn as a season of change, newness, family gatherings and the pleasure of a year of hard work coming to an end make autumn the warmest season.
For me, autumn has long brought new beginnings: starting a new school year, moving to college, or the beginning of another season of my favorite sport — cross country. Autumn is shopping with my mother for # 2 pencils, Elmer’s glue and a new backpack. It is searching for the first tiny little red or orange leaf and feeling a childlike excitement when I pick it up. It is running along trails and through neighborhoods blanketed in their own quilts of red, yellow and orange leaves. There are few feelings in life as invigorating as a fresh start.
During autumn I’m surrounded by people the people who have loved me through a lifetime of new beginnings and changes: family. Grandma would look up from her quilting projects just long enough to place casseroles with squash, sweet potatoes and marshmallows on the table where my family and I gathered. I’d savor these sweet dishes with the people I care about most. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. The pressures of buying Christmas gifts, sending cards and the bustle of the season haven’t arrived yet. On Thanksgiving Day, my family shares a meal together with no expectations, no disappointments. We relax, enjoy one another and sip coffee all afternoon. Even a nap is perfectly acceptable.
Thanksgiving is my kind of holiday. Forget the Martha Stewart magazines and making everything look perfect. The perfect Thanksgiving meal for me is served in mismatched serving dishes at unpretentious place settings. In this way, Thanksgiving is honest. It seems, each year, as if Thanksgiving Day revives and relaxes my body and mind. This makes it more possible for me to enjoy the brisk weather and beautiful colors that surround me during this season.
Grandma always seemed more relaxed in the fall, relieved that Grandpa was done with all the hard farm work for the year. She no longer needed to pack up the lunches he would carry out into the field, or labor in the garden, or put up jams and jellies and relishes. Autumn was time to quilt.
One of those quilts now warms and covers my most precious gift: my daughter Olivia. Olivia was also born in the fall. She is the most precious gift this perfect season has ever given me. Her quilt is made from memories. Some of those little scraps of fabric were worn during hard work in the field, at family gatherings, or at cross country races. The quilt is an amalgamation of previous autumns, bringing the previous years’ memories all together into a little piece of art that reminds me why I love fall so much. It’s no wonder I believe that autumn is the best season. George Eliot understood when she wrote, “If I were a bird, I would fly about the Earth seeking the successive autumns.”