“An Autumn to Remember,” Oct. 3, 2017

(Dear Readers: This column was written Sunday, Oct. 1, shortly before the horrific massacre that took place on the Las Vegas Strip. I was deeply touched by all of you who wrote to check on me and my family. We are fine, thank you, and you are the best. Please pray for the victims and their families. _ Sharon)

This morning I opened the patio door and grinned like a mule eating briars. The mountains were shining in the west. The jack rabbits had left us a little of the lawn. And the thermometer on the patio registered a balmy 65 degrees.

That’s the same thermometer that only days ago could climb to 115 or more, a condition also known as “slightly hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell.”

We live in the desert outside Las Vegas. Summer is a neon inferno. But autumn can make you think you’re in heaven.

Readers often write to tell me about fall in their parts of the world. It always reminds me of the autumns I knew growing up in the Carolinas.

Once, when I wrote about how I missed seeing fall colors, a woman back East sent me a box of gorgeous red and gold leaves she’d gathered from her yard.

I wish you could’ve seen them. They were almost as lovely as the kind soul who sent them.

But even in the desert, where color is scarce, fall is my favorite season, if only for the memories it brings to mind. For example:

_ When I was 5, I went out to play after days of rain. As the clouds parted, the sun lit up the mountain and I saw for the first time a blaze of fall colors. I ran inside to tell my grandmother the mountain was on fire.

_ On Halloween, when I was 10, I made tacky costumes and took my brothers trick-or-treating. I was a princess with a tin-foil crown. Denton was 4. I gave him a banana and told him to act like a monkey. Joe was 6 and had been blind all his life. I threw a sheet over his head but forgot to tell him why. At the first house, a neighbor lady patted Joe’s head and said, “You’re a cute little ghost!” And Joe shouted through the sheet, “I ain’t a ghost! I’m a mattress!”

_ My happiest fall memory is the October my daughter was born. We lived on the coast of California, an easy walk to the beach. Summer fog had given way to autumn’s glory. On my due date I made a deal with a friend. We each had a 3 year old. They thought they were brothers. We agreed to take them to the beach every day until I went into labor. A few days at most, right?

Three weeks later, when at last I gave birth, my tan was the envy of every woman in the maternity ward. And my baby girl was perfect. She still is. Six autumns ago, she gave birth to my grandson, Henry.

_ The September before my first husband lost his 4-year-battle with cancer, he wanted to go to Yellowstone. He could barely walk. But we flew to Wyoming and rode horses in the foothills of the Tetons, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, gold-leafed aspens and herds of bored-looking buffaloes. I never saw him look happier.

_ After years as a widow, I remarried and moved with my new husband to the desert. Our first Halloween in our new home, I put a pumpkin on the fence, bought a lot of candy and waited for the doorbell to ring. It didn’t. We had zero trick-or-treaters. So we went out back, watched the moon climb over the mountain and ate all the candy. Who knew Halloween could be so much fun?

I could fill a book with fall memories. I bet you could, too. Mine include Butterfly Parades when my children wore wings to march in the street and welcome the monarchs back to town.

Thanksgivings with family, friends, leftovers and so many reasons to count my blessings.

Halloweens where no trick or treaters ever come to our door and we get to eat all the candy.

Those and other memories drift across my mind like falling leaves dancing on the wind.

But the best autumn is never in memory. It’s always the one that’s right outside our door, and how we choose to live it.

I put a pumpkin on the fence by our front gate. You never know what might come of it.

Here’s wishing you and yours and all of us together, the best autumn of our lives — so far.

The Shootings on the Las Vegas Strip, Oct. 1, 2017

To all of you who have written to ask if we’re OK: We were home when the shooting took place last night, and we are fine, thank you! Please pray for all the victims and their families! _ Sharon

“Forgetting My Sister’s Birthday,” Sept. 26, 2017

It’s the middle of the night. I’ve been tossing for hours. I need to make a confession. I’m not proud of it, but here it is: I forgot my sister’s birthday.

Actually, I didn’t forget her birthday. It was posted all over Facebook, so I couldn’t forget it, even if I wanted to. I just forgot to call her. Wait, that’s not true. I called her, but she wasn’t home. Was that my fault? I didn’t think so, either, thank you very much. [Read more…]

“Traveling Light on the Road of Life,” Sept. 19, 2017

Long ago, before my children were born and I still had time to do things like brush my teeth or read something more profound than “Pat the Bunny,” I read a sentence that changed my life:
“The mark of a good outing is how little you take along.”

Don’t ask where it came from. I have no idea. All I know is, when I read it, I shouted, “YES!” [Read more…]

“For the Love of Wiley,” Sept. 12, 2017

Why do people get married? Most of us, I hope, would say that we married for love. Love is no guarantee that a marriage will last. But without it, the chances for happiness _ let alone for fun _ are pretty much slim to none.

I married twice for love. My first husband was a teacher and a coach. It was a good marriage that grew better and stronger over time. It lasted 30 years until he died of cancer.

It gave me three children who will always be the crowning achievements of my life. It also gave me a gift I never wanted: For four years, I was a healthcare advocate, spiritual cheerleader and end-0f-life caregiver for someone I could not imagine living without.

Getting married is like being a parent. It’s best not to know at the start all it might require. [Read more…]

“Sharing Stories Gives Us Something to Clap About,” Sept. 5, 2017

 

(Dear Reader: I’m taking this week off for vacation. The following column is from 2013. But I assure you, my brother was equally ecstatic this week after Clemson’s recent win.)

Happiness means different things to different people.

Take my brother. Blind all his life and crippled by cerebral palsy, he lives alone with plenty of time to dwell upon the things he doesn’t have and the loved ones he has lost.

But last night, when I called him, he was as happy as happy ever gets. Why? Football. [Read more…]

“Imagine a Place Called Home,” Aug. 29, 2017

 

Two days after Hurricane Harvey ripped into the Texas coast, I sat at a window in Pacific Grove, Calif., watching the sun set on Monterey Bay.

In the distance, on water as blue as the sky and calm as a lake, sailboats glistened like the wings of angels. A tour boat of whale watchers left a “V” in its wake as it headed back to dock in time for supper. Seagulls soared and swooped and cackled. Pelicans glided along the shore, diving for sardines and anchovies.

In a quiet cove by Lovers Point, a family of sea otters lay belly-up, anchored in a bed of kelp, cracking clams or crabs (“clack-clack!”) with a rock. [Read more…]

“Birthday Parties,” Aug. 22, 2017

Kids’ birthday parties have come a long way.

On my seventh birthday, I invited all my classmates to a party. I meant to tell my mother but I forgot. Two kids showed up: A boy who gave me a candy bar, and a girl, who ate it.

When I turned 16, my mother meant to give me a “sweet 16” party but she forgot. The next year she gave me a surprise “sweet 17” party. The day of the party, my friend Jane was supposed to keep me busy at her house. We got bored, so I let her trim my bangs “just a hair.” They ended up three inches too short. When I walked into the surprise party, my guests looked more surprised than I did. [Read more…]

“Words and Music,” Aug. 15, 2017

I grew up in a family of sinners and singers and storytellers. Maybe you did, too. We didn’t have much materially, but we had each other and a whole lot of fun.

By the time I was old enough to know right from wrong _ 4 or 5 years old _ I had learned three fundamental facts of life: [Read more…]

“A Bats-Over-Penguins Life,” Aug. 8, 2017

 

Bats over penguins. That’s how I describe things that defy expectations and leave me drop-jawed in surprise.

Years ago on a trip to Portland, my husband and I went to the Oregon Zoo mostly to see the penguins.

I love penguins. They’re like toddlers on a sugar high from too much birthday cake _ fun to watch, if you don’t have to chase them. I could hardly wait. [Read more…]