Thursday, October 4, 2012

Changing of the Guard

Something about the ever-present cornfields here in central Illinois almost dares me to find them attractive, even now, when only stubble and dirt clods reach to the line of trees on the horizon. Oddly, despite my Rocky Mountain and Green Mountain roots, I do find myself irresistibly captivated by this agrarian sea that surrounds me. The city of Springfield offers less in the way of back country charm. Still, my drive home from work today brought me down wide, tree-lined avenues, signature scenery for the heartland. Here and there, trend-setting trees sported yellow and orange plumage, a sure sign that crisp autumn air waits just around the corner.

As I drove, I pondered how different life will look the next time I watch the trees trade their summer greenery for fall colors. This weekend, I will write to Devin on his mission and tell him about Alec's final Homecoming game. I might even confess that I teared up a bit when the senior float passed, carrying Alec and the other graduating football players.

I still picture Alec as a mischievous kindergartner, grinning gleefully as he tells how he and 10-year old Devin sneaked out onto the roof of the house during quiet time. Next autumn, the two brothers will drive off to college together, Devin a recently returned missionary and Alec a brand new adult. They will likely spend Sunday afternoons eating dinner with one set of grandparents or the other, building bonds and memories in a way their younger sister may not have the opportunity to enjoy a decade later when the grandparents approach their nineties.

The changing seasons seem to expose the mortality in all of us (at least those of us dancing around that mid-century mark). One cousin asked recently, "How did we get so old all of a sudden?" Another reminded me that my generation has become the aunts and uncles (and even grandparents!) that I remember so fondly from my school days. Back when those aunts and uncles still attended PTA meetings and sent children of their own off to college, I used to sing along to Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time":

I see my folks, they're getting old, I watch their bodies change
I know they see the same in me, And it makes us both feel strange
No matter how you tell yourself, It's what we all go through
Those eyes are pretty hard to take when they're staring' back at you
Scared you'll run out of time

I loved the song then, knew all the words. Now I understand it in a way I never could in my twenties.  The thought of getting old myself inspires no particular horror. But I raise my children here on the prairie, 1000 miles away from those aunts and uncles and parents who played such a pivotal role in my life. I find myself indeed scared I'll run out of time to share my extended family with my sons and daughter who know them primarily through long outdated stories.

See? Those corn-stubble vistas and colorful trees have me waxing nostalgic and feeling old. Pretty soon, winter will set in. I'll find a few more gray hairs, mark another milestone or two. But spring hovers in the wings even when the north wind sends frigid air down my neck. Nostalgia will have to give space eventually to rebirth and the blossom of new opportunity. The grandparents will once again trade their cross-country skis for hiking boots, and I will wake up to find that the world has not ended quite yet.

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