The things we forget: fall (part 1)

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Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year. When everyone else begins to groan about the gloomy weather, the rain, the chill in the air, I rejoice. I despise winter. I love spring in exact proportion to how much I hate winter. And of course, summer is freedom. But my soul lives in autumn. It is an ending or a beginning, all depending on your perspective. It is change. It is, as I told my husband (whom I started dating in October), the best time to have a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a lover. And it’s memories. Memories vivid and sad and joyful, but as certain to visit me in the fall as the leaves are to fall. So this fall, I’m going to write about some of my very favorite fall memories and the things I love about fall.

Wednesday night supper at Burlington Baptist Church

Every fall when the weather begins to turn cool, and after daylight savings time when the sky is suddenly dark at 5:00, I remember waiting at the side door of our church for my dad to pick me up after the usual round of Wednesday night activities at Burlington Baptist Church. Looking back, I think this is how my mom and dad bridged the gap between when she had to go to work and he got home from work. Wednesday night supper in the basement, followed by Girls in Action in one of the back rooms next to the preacher’s office. And then choir in the actual sanctuary, which is what we called the room where we had services.

Here’s a picture of the boat/arch thing, only
ours was bigger and better (at least in my memory)

The best parts of these evenings by far were the actual supper and then waiting outside to get picked up. Girls in Action was, well, just the girls, and there was a lot of talk about missionary work and Lottie Moon. I think there may have been patches. Perhaps this was, in fact, the Southern Baptist substitute for Girl Scouts. I have no idea. There was singing in choir, and at least the boys were there again. But also several adults who were in charge and likely to scold you if you got too distracted from the singing.

What the best parts of Wednesday nights had in common was minimal to no adult supervision. At Wednesday supper, there were many adults, but they were distracted by eating or serving food or generally talking to each other about boring adult things. By some strange quirk, I attended kindergarten in the basement of my church, so when I was very young, Wednesday night supper meant you could run around in your kindergarten classroom after hours, so to speak. And then in kindergarten the next morning, you could lord it over all the other kids who did not go to Wednesday night supper.

But mostly you could just run around. In and out of the little divider-made classrooms in the basement that the grown-ups used for Sunday School. Up the back stairs into the main part of the church and through those hallways. Back down to the room that was your own Sunday school classroom. And sometimes up to the nursery, that had the coolest little boat/arch thing that I ever have or ever will see. Laid on one side, it was a little boat which you could crawl in with seats and rock back and forth on the curved bottom. But if you flipped it over, it was a little arched set of steps that you could crawl onto and challenge anyone to displace you, though this often led to injuries, serious and minor. If you were very brave, you could go into the sanctuary, but the sanctuary was not really a sanctuary for children at all. Getting caught playing in the empty sanctuary, as tempting as it was, carried serious repercussions which we suspected were not just earthly.

After an hour or so preparing for the next holiday production in choir, we were released to wait for our parents to pick us up. We would stand on the little concrete porch by the side entrance to the church, the designated spot for parental pick-up, and release all the pent-up energy that had been amassing in the interim between running around like maniacs during Wednesday supper and now. And unlike Wednesday supper, there were no parents out there. There were grown-ups still inside the church, but not very close. Not close enough to hear us or watch us. Close enough only for us to know that we were not completely alone. Outside, there was only the darkening church parking lot, our still thin fall coats to keep us warm, the sure anticipation of our parents’ arrival and each other.

What did we talk about out there? What did we do? Girls in Action and youth choir ended when you became a teenager. I don’t remember where you went then, but these memories are brightest in that brief window between being a child and becoming something else. There were boys and girls who waited, and there was teasing. Probably, there was the beginning of flirting. There was re-hashing of events from the school day and anticipating what would happen tomorrow. There were the people you really wanted to be stuck waiting with and the people you hoped would be picked up quickly. And then at the end, there was your father pulling up in his car, fresh from his commute to mysterious other places and mysterious other things. But here now to take you home, well fed and socially sated.

What is this memory made of? The chill of fall weather. The dark intimacy of children standing in a space just beyond the reach of adults, but not so far away that anything really scary could happen. The comfort of community. The joy of being a child before puberty began to creep up on us and everything became so complicated. The simple pleasure of getting into the car with my dad and going home.

My friend, who has no children, says that all children really need in the end is to know that there’s someone who will come and get them if the house is on fire. Who will find them and lead them out of the scary place. That someone will be there to pick them up. This memory is about a lot of things. But maybe most importantly it is about just that. The blessed freedom to be a child and at the end of the night, to be picked up in a warm car and taken home. 

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