Autumn Leaves


So!  It’s that time again!

Another season sliding out the back door as we hang the fall wreath on the front door.  I saw a spray of yellow leaves here and there along the parkway today.  The angle of the sun has shifted.  Now it makes me squint my eyes while cooking on the patio grill.  Sunlight arrives a little later each day, and departs a little sooner.  Just a few weeks and we will set the clocks back to standard time.

I turn on some classical music, lean back and close my eyes.  This is a landmark kind of thing–changing seasons.  At least it feels that way at this stage in my life.

September!  That’s the month when I finished army basic training fifty-nine years ago–and then went to my secondary training in Long Island.  I shivered in summer khakis when I stepped off the train in New York City.  What a relief when they issued winter uniforms!

“Autumn Leaves,” played by Roger Williams, floated in the air, along with real leaves.  Fort Slocum was an island, and it was blustery.  I had qualified for the Army Information School, which was more like a college campus than an army post.  What a change from infantry training in South Carolina during July and August!  Our training included press photography, newspaper journalism, writing radio scripts, and more.  Here was a different world, one I had to stretch to fit into–geopolitics nearly did me in.  But I made it.

They sent me to the Pentagon after two weeks of leave.  I got there just in time to be assigned as a runner for the Eisenhower Inauguration Committee.  Along with that, I clipped newspaper articles in the Chief of Information’s office:  anything about the Army–from all over the country–every day.  It seemed like I was the only non-college-grad in the Fort Meyer South Post barracks.  I went home weekends.  But that’s a story for winter.  Fort Slocum’s autumn leaves are a sufficient memory for the fall.

It was September three years later when I entered Bridgewater College.  I remember freshman orientation week.  A cold front blew in for those few days.  Then classes started and it stayed cold at night, but was quite warm at mid-day.  The campus came alive with activities, and my mind came alive with academic challenges.  I still listened to Roger Williams and “Autumn Leaves” whenever I could.

September three years later was the month when my daughter was born.  We were living in an upstairs apartment of a college-owned house.  Life was hectic with school, four mountain churches where I was serving as a student pastor, and a new baby.  I was awestruck by the immensity of parenthood, the huge responsibility to nurture a tiny bundle of gurgling joy into an adult human being.  The task seemed overwhelming.  I rocked her at night and sang new lyrics I’d put to the tune of a familiar lullaby:  “Rock-a-bye Linda, in daddy’s arms….”  Autumn leaves brushed the window pane outside.

Decades later I had an opportunity to meet Roger Williams.  It was at the Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership in Garden Grove, California.  He performed during one of our worship times at the Crystal Cathedral.  I marveled as he played “Autumn Leaves” that day.  Later I had a chance to tell him how much that song had meant to a young GI at an army school in New York decades earlier.

Autumn leaves!  They’re returning.

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