Alan actually proposed in December of the previous year, and as we deliberated about when to hold the ceremony, we immediately agreed on the month of October. We reasoned we would celebrate each anniversary vacationing in the beautiful Autumn splendor of the North, and we could honeymoon at a spot located somewhere deep in the colorful New England woods. But, as the wedding expenses grew and our savings dwindled, we decided our Vermont Inn would have to wait. We'd just spend a few nights at Disney instead, enjoy our family that made the trip to Orlando for the wedding, and catch New England another time.
This year, fifteen anniversaries later, we finally made good on that promise we made back then. We arrived last Sunday at Mills Falls Inn, located right along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in the tiny, picturesque town of Meredith, NH. It was definitely worth the wait! Seriously, if you live in the Northeastern portion of this great country, you must immediately step away from your computer and rush outside to drink-in the awesome display that Autumn is showing you right now. Go ahead, I'll wait. Breathtaking, isn't it? I've spent the last sixteen years in Florida, sweating my way through September, October and November. My poor Cleveland, Ohio soul just ached to be sitting in the middle of the crisp, colorful woods of the North, donned in a cable knit sweater, wrapping my cold hands around a steamy mug of apple cider!
You'd think with so much built-up expectation, I'd have been disappointed with what greeted us in New England. You would be gravely mistaken!! It was just gorgeous. I think my favorite excursion we took was an old fashioned "foliage-viewing" train ride through the woods. The brochure promised that the old train would wind it's way past countless lakes, deer and Christmas tree farms, through vintage stations and over trestle bridges. Sign us up! When we arrived at the station to check in, Alan surprised me by telling me he had upgraded our seats to the privately owned "lounge car" located at the front of the train (LOVE him!!). It was a wonderfully nostalgic car decorated with old fashioned couches, tables, and a vintage bar, complete with glass decanters filled with amber liquid. On the walls hung pictures displaying the train as it originally appeared back in the 30's, and the hidden speakers played the quiet strains of Frank Sinatra crooning "All of Me." It was perfect!
We picked a table for two by the window and had a seat in the cushy chairs while the rest of the guests boarded. Soon an older gentleman with straggly gray hair and beard appeared dressed in a three-piece, navy blue, pin-striped suit, complete with watch chain and conductor hat. He introduced himself as Gary and told us he'd be taking care of us during the extent of our four hour journey together. He then proceeded to tell us about all the experience he had in the railroad business. He named all the different jobs he'd held over the years and the many railroad companies with which he was employed. Towards the end of his speech, almost as an afterthought, he mentioned that he would be assisted today by Ryan, a young, twenty-something, short boy dressed in the identical three-piece suit and hat. Ryan smiled and waved as he was introduced, but soon disappeared around the corner. He appeared again instantly with a tray of tea and coffee, walking through the car and quietly offering the refreshments to each couple. The same was repeated with a basket of snacks, a tray of chocolates, and an armful of bottled waters. Each time Ryan smiled, leaned in with his treats, and moved on. He was taking such good care of us, we didn't really notice that we hadn't seen the older Gary for quite some time.
But soon the train was moving and our gorgeous journey into the fall foliage began. It was somehow even lovelier when viewed through that large old window of our train car. Ryan, who had shed his tray and basket, stood awkwardly at the head of the car, cleared his throat to get our attention, then announced in broken sentences, "Ok...coming up...on the right hand side...is a deer farm. It's where they have deer...and also you can see the deer and take their picture if you want to." He was clearly nervous, but trying very hard. So we all smiled broadly at him and leaned in when he spoke, offering him encouragement with our eyes. When he stepped out of the car for a few moments, one of the older women giggled to the rest of us, "Isn't Ryan just ADORABLE?" We all laughed and nodded in agreement.
Ryan appeared again and I watched as he approached a party of four sitting near the front of the car. He asked, "Where are you from?" Soon they were all happily chatting about the hot weather in Miami, the hurricanes in Florida, and the wonderfully cool weather in New England. Ryan never looked completely relaxed, but his kind expression was genuine and it never waned.
About thirty minutes into the ride, Gary appeared again, but we almost didn't recognize him. He had changed from his lovely, vintage conductor's uniform to a pair of dirty sneakers, wrinkled khaki pants, and faded blue T-shirt. There was an audible gasp from the guests in the car. "Sorry, I just couldn't stand to be in that uncomfortable monkey suit any longer!" he said laughing, then quickly disappeared again. It was then that we realized that Gary had done nothing on our trip so far except welcome us on board and recite his resume. Everything else had been cheerfully handled by Ryan. Someone asked him, "How come YOU don't get to change out of YOUR suit?" Ryan looked down, grinned shyly and replied, "Oh, I don't mind this."
So, as my Northern soul was slowly being replenished with the sights of majestically gorgeous scenery and the crisp, cool scent of Autumn air, I started thinking a lot about the "Changing of the Seasons." We always refer to growing old as being in the "Autumn of our Years." I guess we are to believe that the "Winter of our Years" is death. When I got home, I did
some on-line research about the reasons that leaves change color, and then eventually fall from the trees. The truth is, the trees aren't dying when they shed their leaves, they're simply "moving on" to the next season. They "know" that the days are shorter and winter is coming, so they "shed" their leaves and go into a type of hibernation, living off the food they've stored during the summer.
I wonder if Gary has ever read about Autumn leaves. I think about how he has lived a full life, one that he has obviously loved. But it seems to me that Gary has now made the decision that those glory days have passed, and it's time to check out and simply wait for the "Winter of his death." Gary has given up on the living part. As far as he's concerned, there are no more seasons for him, no Spring arriving to replenish his branches after Winter has past. This was it for him, no need to try anymore.
I think about how easy it would be for me to be Gary. I've always hated change. I've always been quite content exactly where I am, thank you very much, no need for "moving on" or making room for improvement. My Mom loves to tell me about how reluctant I always was to move on to the next grade in school. I never wanted to leave elementary school, Jr. High, and then High School. I was having a wonderful time in each, I feared the unknown of the new school, and didn't really see the need to move on. I wanted to keep my "leaves" right where they were. I haven't gotten much better as an adult. Because of Alan's promotion, I've left a job in Florida that I loved very much, with no real opportunity to do the same in the area of my new home. I must admit, sometimes it's pretty tempting to just say, "Well, that's that" and prepare for "Winter."
But now, I think of Ryan. I've decided I want to be Ryan. I've been resting a bit, hibernating since the move and living off the Florida memories I've stored. It's time to re-emerge, move-on and create a new "Spring." I sincerely hope it will have something to do with writing and with this blog I've started. Like Ryan, I may be a little clumsy and awkward at first, and I'm sure I'll make a plethora of mistakes. But Ryan has taught me that the important part is the trying, trying with a happy attitude and a kind smile.
How about you? Is there some Autumn happening in your life these days? Are you being forced to shed some "leaves" of your past that have brought you safety and comfort? Are you staring at some tough days of Winter ahead? May I make a suggestion? Don't be like Gary. It's not the end. There's a beautiful Spring around the bend. And in the meantime, if it gets hard or uncomfortable, be like Ryan. Put a big smile on your face, clear your throat and state, "Oh, I don't mind this!"
Thanks for reading!!