Our current month of September is a turning point. When I was a kid growing up in the South, September was just summer with shorter days. Not any more: Now a Northerner, I quickly sense that September bids farewell, if not always fond farewell, to summer.
I remember once walking my dog in Beloit’s Strong Park one September evening at around eight o’clock. It was already dark of course, and suddenly a cold gust of wind jabbed us in the nose. I don’t know about the pup, but I flinched. I had gotten into the habit of looking into the night sky for the overhead lights of planes headed to Milwaukee. I spotted them this particular night. But they seemed cold and distant in the blackening sky.
As I’ve gotten older I have come to see September, though, as more than the end of summer. I’ve also started to compare my life to such things as meals and years. When one is young, one enjoys the salad days. As one grows old, dessert approaches as the last sweet hurrah. And so it is with the time of year. Is August the last month of summer and also the last period of consistently good feelings and health? Is September the start of the sixties, with October and December coming on as one’s seventies and eighties?
The great Bobby Orr played hockey into his fifties, but not into his sixties.
Is September the dividing line between middle age and old age?
And then there’s the whole business of courtship, made famous by Frank Sinatra in that classic old tune called “September Song.” When one courts in the spring, sings Frank, one thinks he has all the time in the world and wastes it on frivolous things. But by September, we sense that time is running out and we’d better start taking our relationships seriously. Besides that, by the time September rolls around, we’ve lived long enough to know what we want and what’s good for us.
The trouble is that we’ve spent most of the year getting our wisdom. September reminds us: We get smart too late and old too soon.
Up here in Wisconsin, September is often a lovely month: not too hot or cold, with ample sunshine and soft cool breezes, at least during the day. But then it’s also bittersweet. One knows winter is just biding its time. We see the occasional dead leaf, and suddenly the temperate wind turns to a spinal chill.
Any school child can tell you that September is a kind of death. Even back in Texas, when I was forced on hot September days to learn my Latin declensions, I sometimes thought I’d almost rather be dead. Latin is a dead language, we used to say; as dead as it can be. “First it killed the Romans. Now it’s killing me.”
Well, you can do the math for yourself. The unexpectedly chilly breeze, by comparison, the last third of one’s life. The urgency and perplexity of courtship. Students forced to be bored to death learning Latin. It all happens in September.
It is the month of sweet and sour sauce.
I had a great aunt who used to say of her only beloved son that he would marry late in life. She hoped he would. He did not. He married and left home as soon as he could. This was in the April of his youth.
But, years later, he died while only in his late sixties: in late September, in fact.
Was this just a coincidence? I sort of doubt it.
Tom McBride is the author of “The Deadest Angel in Beloit: A Mystery.”