The Circle Game

Here we are in the midst of another Fall season, although this one is a little different with the pandemic overshadowing every facet of our daily lives. But in reality, some things are still the same. The red, orange and gold colors of autumn, the fresh picked apples, the crisp morning air. Some things never change. And yet, everything has changed. Maybe I’m just waxing poetic because I’m listening to Joni Mitchell music. Her words have a way of tugging at my heartstrings.

I find myself once again at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee (Gevalia Dark Roast). I’m drawn to this spot every time I’m inspired to write. I could go upstairs to my home office at my computer desk but there’s something about this rustic high-top table for two I purchased at Furniture World in Stoneham that feels comforting. And the view of the golden leaves falling in slow motion from the huge tree in my backyard (oak? maple?) has triggered a cornucopia of memories. 

From where I sit, I can see my kitchen calendar nearing the end of its usefulness. Birthdays and anniversaries have passed, coming and going in their endless annual cycle. Another year gone, like the falling leaves outside my window. One by one, the leaves drift from the tree to the ground like calendar pages falling to the floor. Look, there goes 1978, the year I fell in love with my wife. She was a senior in high school. On her school lunch break she would walk to the Jack-In-The-Box where I briefly worked.  The restaurant was a few doors down from the high school on Broadway in Everett. Sometimes I would catch her smiling at me as I worked the grill behind the cashiers. I was never sure if she was flirting with me or snickering at me because I was frantically flipping burgers. It didn’t matter. Her smile was enough no matter the reason.

Outside my window, another leave falls, or is it 1979 and I just graduated from college and scored my first job as a big time graphic artist at Jordan Marsh in downtown Boston. I thought I was set for life as the 1980’s passed in a blur of parties, music and dancing to A Flock of Seagulls. My marriage was on the horizon. The future was now. Or so I thought. 

More leaves fall, more years pass. There goes 1987, the year my first son was born. I remember driving home from the hospital where I left my wife and newborn son (I have a son!) to go home and get some rest after being up all night trying to figure out what to do while my wife was in labor. My car radio was playing the Disney song “When You Wish Upon A Star”. I thought, how fitting, dreams really do come true. Baby Joey was all the proof I needed.

More leaves fall. Suddenly it’s 1994. If we are going to have another child, we better do it soon. We weren’t getting any younger. Quite the opposite. After what I can only describe as a complicated pregnancy (and that’s putting it mildly), my son Max entered the world in early 1995. It’s been eight years since we had a baby in the house. What do we do now? 

The leaves are piling up. Spring 1995, the same year Max was born, my older brother Michael passed away. Every birthday my son has marks another year my brother was gone. As time passed, I was now older than my older brother. How is that even possible?

Family milestones mark the passing of time and trigger memories, some happy, some sad. On the first day of Spring in 2003, my father-in-law headed to the Malden YMCA for his usual exercise routine. He never came home. A tragic car accident claimed his life, instantly, out of the blue, so close to home. In June 2005 we celebrated my son Joe’s graduation from Stoneham High School. The next month, we mourned as my mother-in-law lost her battle with cancer.

Nothing can stop the leaves from falling. In between our own family’s medical issues, we had a college graduation, another high-school graduation, and another college graduation, as our boys grew into men and started their own lives. Both of them are married now, and they are experiencing the passing of life’s seasons for themselves as they try to make some sense of the passage of time.

As the cycle of life moved full speed into the future, I lost both my parents a few years apart. They were elderly, and enjoyed good health for most of their lives. That didn’t make their passing any easier. I’ve been blessed with two grandchildren to help fill that void. I only wish my parents could see how my precious grandchildren have grown. They would have loved them as much as they loved my children, maybe even more. 

The leaves continue falling non-stop, blanketing my backyard, knee-deep, threatening to cover my doors and windows. Fall of 2020 has brought a second surge of this horrific pandemic and my 40th wedding anniversary all rolled into one. There are only two months left on the calendar and the final leaves of this year are refusing to let go. I can only sit here and wonder if there is any end in sight.

I’ve spent enough time watching falling leaves and calendar pages dropping to the ground. Thanksgiving week is here and I’ve got lots to do. It’s November and I just want it to be springtime. Something tells me it’s going to be a long winter. I’m going to let Joni Mitchell take it from here:

And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look behind

From where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game…”

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