"This is my life," she says as we drive down her driveway. She points at the trees and the fallen leaves that surround the house. "I'm in the autumn of my life."
Her hair matches the color of the rusty leaves around us as she shakes her head and giggles.
"Mom, what do you mean, autumn?" I crinkle my eyebrows and cock my head, confused.
"I mean," she says, turning on her blinker and coming to a stop, "that I'm in my fifties. It's my fall. Still pretty, but we're on our way to winter."
I shake my head, rid myself of the thoughts of mortality she's inspiring. "But fifty is young, you're not on your way to winter."
"Yes I am, Laurie," she shifts into first and pulls forward, the tires sliding over the leaves that litter our road. "But I'm okay with that."
"This conversation is a bit morbid, I think," I say, reaching for the bottle of Dr. Pepper I brought along. "I don't want to talk about...you know...dying."
"I'm not saying I'm dying. I'm not saying it's coming any time soon. But, you know, when you reach a certain age, you realize that you're not getting any younger. And you realize that you pretty much know what's left. And now, I'm ready. Because I can look back at my life and say it was good. It was satisfying. I have a wonderful husband, I have two beautiful kids. I have a house, I drive my dream car. I've traveled, I've seen some amazing things. If my winter is coming, I'm ready. Because I've done all I wanted to do."
Fall takes its sweet time fading into winter. It starts long before we notice it, the slight shift in the air that makes the leaves turn rusty, the dry soil that makes them go gold. We don't notice it until we're driving down the road and see an explosion of canary, a blur of crimson. And we make promises, to drive north and appreciate it, to see the trees of Vermont, the painted hillsides that line the interstate. We marvel at the colors as they spin from green to yellow, to amber, to red.
It's the most beautiful season of the four, but we take the colors for granted, and before we know it, the veined and brittle leaves line our streets and parking lots, no longer hanging onto the trees for our viewing pleasure. Trees are naked and twisted, their skeletons exposed, bared for winter. Very rarely do we appreciate the fall. We let the autumn pass us by and realize, too late, that it's winter.
It's extraordinary that she sees it, that my mom slows down enough to look around, take in the changes and appreciate them. I hope I appreciate the beauty of my fall, too, rather than just anticipating winter.