Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Big Tease

This morning, for the first morning in months, there is the slightest hint of a chill in the air, the faintest hint of the tiniest whisper that a change in season is coming.

It's a lie, of course.

Seasons don't change in Houston.  We slide from oppressively hot to mildly uncomfortable and back to oppressively hot again, year after year.  There is April, with its agreeable temperatures and its jaw-dropping riot of wildflowers, and the occasional anomaly, like the Christmas Eve snowstorm a few years ago, an event so stunning, so remarkable that books were written about it, but for the most part, it's the menu at McDonald's: Quarter Pounder, Egg McMuffin, or Flliet-O-Fish Sandwich, it all tastes the same.

That's why this cool, breezy morning is so cruel.  It's a come-on, a con.  In three days, the temperatures will be back in the Nineties, and it will be humid, and we will have completely forgotten why we bothered to unbox our sweaters and hoodies.   

Houston is a lint trap town: we blow in here from all over the world, carried by the hope of work or of education or of a fresh start, planning to stay just long enough to get established, a year or two, and then go back to Michigan or Buffalo or Lagos to start our real lives, but somehow we stick.  We start our families.  We buy homes.  We start saying "Y'all" instead of "youse guys," and develop an opinion on which joint serves the best barbecue.  We get used to the notion that you can wear sandals in December, and not be playing the part of Shepherd #3 in the church's annual Nativity play.  We get used to all of it.  We learn to like it.  

Then the morning comes when we go out for the paper and we feel the slightest hint of the tiniest whisper of Autumn, the smallest of cool breezes curling over our noses like the brush of a peacock feather, and we are in another place.  I love Houston, weird, flat, wonderful Houston.  It's like Guy Clark's voice: weathered and creaky and comfortable, something you've known all your life, even when it's singing a brand-new song.  But on a morning like this, when the slightest hint of the tiniest whisper of Autumn is in the air, my heart aches to collect chestnuts from the trees in front of old Mrs. Carney's house, and to watch the steam rise, like apparitions, from the muddy old Erie Canal, and to see leaves, freed from the close confines of photosynthesis, finally reveal their true colors, red and yellow and brown and orange, one last grand gasp of freedom before they tumble.

My family has lived in the white house on the canal for 110 years.  I have spent more than half my life away from that place.  It is not my home.  It never really was.  But on a morning like this, with the smallest of cool breezes curling over my nose, I long for it.   


  1. We grew up in the same town. 500 miles apart. Once in a while I sniff the air and I'm back in the North Country. Very evocative, Cort.