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The Gift Of Autumn – How I Came To Own One Of My Most Treasured Possessions

January 18, 2014

Autumn has always been my favorite season. The other seasons are fine, but Autumn for me is the most refreshing and inspiring time of year. I love the scenery and the smells as well as the vast array of the silly Halloween merchandise that finds its way into every store.

Having said that, it isn’t the same in Scotland as it is in New England. The season pretty much changes overnight and the weather turns to freezing cold, wet, bare branches misery before anyone has a chance to enjoy the transition. The Christmas merchandise comes out in stores by mid September and Halloween doesn’t really get a fighting chance. The whole experience of fall is one of the things that I miss most about home. 

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This is a picture of my stepfather sitting in his favorite spot. If you want to be completely technical, he was my uncle however, since my aunt was my legal guardian I considered him to be my stepfather, and he treated me as such.

He was a talented gardener, musician, ice hockey enthusiast, a war veteran and a gentleman. He wasn’t perfect, and like most people he had done things in his life that he wasn’t proud of. He had his own demons, but he was a good man and a thoughtful man and he loved his family so very much.

I’ll be 100% honest in saying that our personalities clashed big time. He was neat, tidy and proper and I was not. So as a result he and I regularly irritated and frustrated the hell out of each other. Sometimes we even got fairly creative.

for example, he was more than a bit obsessive about things being straight so I would deliberately go around the house and offset all of the hanging pictures the tiniest fraction just so that he would have to break out his spirit level. Then to get me back he put on a pair of bunny ears and pulled faces at me when no one was looking and completely denied it when I tried to tell my aunt what he’d done. The fact that it was so wildly out of character made it the perfect crime, and she ALMOST believed him. He was capable of being absolutely diabolical and his sense of humor (although often well hidden) was unique.

He was a role model for me and even though we didn’t see eye to eye most of the time, I am still grateful for having him in my life, and he was in my life for over 8 years.

Sadly, when I was 20 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, then after over a year of treatment, surgeries and fighting so hard for time, knowing that it would take him eventually anyway, his body succumbed and he lost the battle.

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September 2005 is when I moved to Scotland.

In hindsight I would have planned the move for later, but despite having trained as a nurse and knowing all the facts about the disease process I still held out hope that he would somehow miraculously live through the cancer and everything would settle back into normality.

I don’t really know what I was thinking. The prospect of him not being there anymore just seemed impossible.

In October, during the last week he was physically mobile, he went for a walk in the back yard and he individually picked out every one of those leaves. He was in enormous pain, and he still bent down, gathered them and put them into a birthday card for me because he planned to send me my favorite season, a piece of home for my birthday.

Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to send the card. He was bed bound shortly afterward and declined rapidly. My aunt sent for me when the end was imminent and I arrived in time to say goodbye. He passed away on October 28th in his own bed, surrounded by his family.

In one of the days before the funeral my aunt handed me an envelope and the contents, a card full of dead leaves remains one of my most treasured possessions, not just because it was from him and he is gone, but because the gesture was so incredibly thoughtful. It made me realize that he knew me better than I ever gave him credit for.

He was buried on my 22nd birthday.

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Autumn still remains my favorite season however, as the end of October approaches it brings with it a heavy sadness and I feel the worst homesickness. So I take out my leaves, my piece of home, and they make me feel better.

Despite our differences, I remember the best things about my stepfather, because he was good to me and I had love for him. I honor him every year by making his traditional (grey) Thanksgiving stuffing and I grow Dahlias in my garden in his memory. At least once a year I also make a batch of his favorite stuffed mushrooms that I used to prepare for him even if I have to eat them all myself.

He would have been such a doting grandfather, and I look forward to someday sharing this gift of autumn and the memories I have with my daughter.

Whenever I think of my leaves I am reminded that in a culture filled with scheduled gift giving, sometimes the most meaningful presents don’t have to cost a thing.

 

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From → Ramblings

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