“Evolution of My October”

A Memoir by Pat Shevlin

I have resisted stashing summer away: While my cottage by the bay is quiet once again, the furniture and umbrellas are still out.

The temperature of the water has dropped beyond comfortable swimming, the marina is preparing for off-season as its slips empty, and I have resisted closing the pool.

While I have fought the inclination to heat the house, the coming week’s forecast likely will change that.

Ready or not October is back, stirring up a cauldron of memories going back to the ’50s, when me and my two siblings were ghosts. Cheap and effective; how much scarier could it be for a nine-year-old to be out in the dark, staring into the eyes of another oncoming, unidentifiable moving white object? I remember not the cache of treats, but the fear that drove me to clutch the hand of my mother appearing in the role of the head ghost.

When the Beatles hit “Come Together” was released in October 1969, this then 19-year-old thought that it was a perfect song for the month. With that rhythmic, eerie prelude and references to “Joo, joo eyeball” and “hair down to his knees,” how could it not be?

On that Halloween night, it provided just the right amount of “creeps,” providing background music in my best friend’s car as we sat and watched ghouls go by.

Pumpkin patches were not part of my childhood, but they certainly provided an undeniable joy as I became an aunt and watched in amazement how little ones were always attracted to the biggest pumpkins. Like crows leaving the nest, each one took off and tried with Wheatieslike strength to carry, “all by myself,” his or her giant dimpled orange orb.

The annual trek to Ioka Valley Farm with nephew and nieces provided not only documentation of their growth as they posed proudly for pictures by the scarecrow measuring stick, but gave them a tradition that they continue to practice even in their adult years.

October was on my list of permanent vacation slots the moment I had a set of wheels. Fall foliage lured me to many destinations in search of leaf-enhanced mountain ranges, steeples, brooks, covered bridges, and coastal cliffs.

Of course, some trips are more memorable than others. In the mid-’70s, I drove with two friends to Canada. We had no idea that scenic Route 7 along the New England side of Lake Champlain would become the subject of a tale for decades. A six-hour drive morphed into a 14-hour trip as we spent 10 hours in Vermont, stopping for a photo or shopping the roadside stands.

In looking back at my past falls, I loved the glow of pure gold on the white of an aspen in Aspen and the soft focus of rusty gnarled leaves clinging to a black tree trunk viewed through the dense fog of the Shenandoah Mountains. But I always came home to the colors of a northeast fall, which blows away the competition.

The trees seem to know how to go out in style, a runway production by Mother Nature designed to capture and hold one’s attention as they drop their dress and bare the spine upon which they bloom. I trust in, and will wait patiently for, their return on that random day in March, when a hint of color paints an otherwise gray landscape. My bet after years of watching is that the weeping willow will be first to return.

Drowning in a sea of leaves seemed an implausible concept until I spent my first fall in my East Hampton beach house. As I reveled at the sight of my whimsical Montauk daisies bursting through their jackets in early October, stately oaks began to shed their shade in my face, sometimes gently, sometimes in a blinding gust.

I knew for the first time on that windy day that the calendar’s third season was appropriately named. I have learned over the years that oak leaves are resistant to decay; what falls stays. The season of the blower is fast approaching.

Last week I became a great-aunt: The power of birth immediately provoked reflection. This child is the child of my enthusiastic, Mets-loving godson.

I enjoyed the four-hour drive to Massachusetts to visit his week-old bundle of joy, Bridget Kathryn, last weekend. I was reminded how long it had been since I drove toward the falling leaves of October, and 15 years since I visited a family newborn.

I did not have to dig at all to relive those outings to apple orchards and pumpkin patches of the Berkshires. While I have watched my nieces and nephew grow to young adults, I subconsciously have been fighting my own aging. I don’t know if I am growing old with grace or defiance.

I don’t feel old until I see a photo — or on a rare occasion, my roots showing. This past summer I contemplated growing out my age-defying hair color and rejected the idea the moment I saw my mother in old age staring back in the mirror. I think I will be 40 until I die.

October is the 10th month in the calendar year. Beyond the anticipation of sweater weather, pumpkin shopping at Country Gardens, or trying to convince someone to try the Fairview Farm maze, I find myself pondering the parallel of calendar October and the October — or tenth month — of my life. The fragility of mortality has found its way to my consciousness. I too have grown, but old?

I have found fall road trips unnecessary as I became a homeowner in paradise. I have the colors of the season with a cherry on top; the beach — that’s a good thing. My physical involvement with my favorite charity over the years has evolved to a cash-versus-time contribution. This is a measure of aging that I am not happy about.

I have lost friends over time and wonder if I failed to do my share to maintain the relationship. Should I be worried about any of this? Should I care? In the grander picture, I have learned to embrace each day as a gift. I am at last finding peace with who I am.

When I think about a bucket list, I find myself content and stymied to produce a list that I think is feasible, so why wonder beyond the present? Because, I fear, it is part of being human.

I deny my own aging so that loneliness can’t get a grip. I don’t like what follows October on the calendar. November is bare, cold, and cries out loneliness. I will research where I can volunteer, consider taking a class this winter. I will continue writing and organizing my photos of Clearwater Beach sunsets. I may throw myself a birthday party in February, but I will not go willingly to the November of my life.


Patricia E. Shevlin splits her time between East Hampton and New York City. Her work has been previously published in The Star.