Autumnus Horribilis

I couldn’t live on the Equator. I love the change of seasons, especially the winding down of autumn.

But there a dark side to fall: Halloween, All Souls Day and el Día de los Muertos, mark the shortening of the days when life is a little more precarious.

I’m wary of this time. Over the years I’ve experienced the following in October and November:

  • major life-threatening surgery
  • my mother’s death
  • my granddaughter’s birth followed by postpartum complications for her mom
  • several personal crises
  • house redecorating
  • and of course Halloween and Thanksgiving, to add to the merriment

This year it’s my Autumnus Horribilis, with the impact of fire, flood, illness and robbery. Someone asked  me, “Where are the locusts?”

Adjusting to our new life with the granddaughter has been tough on everyone. I struggle with constant fatigue, the hurry-up of getting to school, fights over homework—normal life with a 9-year-old, plus her struggles to adjust to life with us.

Chloe's room when she moved in.

Chloe’s room when she moved in.

New curtains replaced the strait jacket.

New curtains replaced the strait jacket.

Friends on her bed.

Friends on her bed.

Then we added yet another family member, a beautiful blue heeler mix my daughter rescued from abandonment. I thought it would be good for Chloe to have a companion and more responsibility. Junior is the sweetest, gentlest, calmest and most loving dog I’ve ever had. But when I took him to the vet for his first checkup he was diagnosed with heartworm. He’s undergoing treatment and is supposed to be kept calm, but try telling that to a kid and a young dog. And we’ll be out close to a thousand dollars for treatment, shots, medicine and, eventually, neutering. He’s worth every penny.

Junior was a country dog and loves to be outside.

Junior was a country dog and loves to be outside.

Someone recently called me “Job.” Here’s my litany of this autumn’s woes:

  • Back pain: In late August, during a visit with friends in the DFW area, I sat in a chair wrong and endured three weeks of excruciating back pain. Luckily I found a wonderful chiropractor and I’m mostly pain-free and mobile.
  • Fire: Chloe’s grandfather had to move valuables out of his Bastrop house during the recent fires.
  • Flood: Her other grandmother’s ex-husband lost many possessions in the late October floods. (We were returning from a few days away and had wait for roads to clear to get back home. But we were “stuck” in Lockhart, eating barbecue, so it wasn’t so bad.)
  • Robbery: While we were away, my daughter stayed with Chloe and the dog. Halfway through the week her house (an hour-plus away) was broken into and she had to juggle care for Chloe and the dogs (hers and ours) and going back and forth working with the authorities and trying to retrieve some of her stuff. I was stuck out of town with friends; the rest of the trip was mostly worry for me. (We saw “Bridge of Spies,” and when the Tom Hanks character asks Rudolf Abel–brilliantly played by Mark Rylance–if he’s worried he may get the death penalty, Abel replies, “Would it do any good?” Still I worry.)
  • Car repairs: nothing serious but a couple of days of juggling cars.
  • Careless losses: I lost my driver’s license and debit card (both found, thanks to the kindness of strangers) and I’m constantly misplacing and forgetting things.
  • Sinuplasty: More painful than I expected. It’s supposed to help with the sinus headaches, but until the inflammation goes down I still have nearly nightly headaches and have to sleep sitting up.
  • An unpleasant situation in our condo complex. I’m on the condo board and feel powerless to fix it. (I’m also on the church Board of Trustees and did a terrible job of fulfilling my obligations in the canvass.)
  • General craziness with a tween child. She turned nine on Saturday. I took her and her cousin to play Blazer Tag, not knowing how insanely noisy and over-stimulating it was to just wait in the lobby. But they had a blast. We had cake with family in the evening.
  • Things I never imagined saying: “Please don’t lick your foot.” “No, I don’t owe you fake fingernails.” And the the winner, one night when I was so tired I was ready for bed before the grandkids: “As long as you don’t set the house on fire I don’t care what you do.”
Her room now.

Her room now.

So I’m crazy and exhausted.

But I try to stop, breathe, and remember to be grateful. Here is my gratitude litany:

  • That we can do our best to help this beautiful little girl thrive.
  • Interesting conversations with Chloe, from how satellites stay in the sky to whether I believe in Santa. She is at that cusp age when her skeptical brain doubts the magic, but her kid’s heart still wants to believe; other kids are telling her Santa isn’t real. When she pressed me: “Grandma, what do you believe?” I fudged, talking about the Spirit of Christmas; that believing in Santa is sort of like believing in God—you really can’t know for sure; and falling back on “Yes, Virginia,” and promising to read that letter to her. Then the subject was dropped and hasn’t come up again. I’d rather she asked where babies come from.
  • For supportive and loving friends and family, especially Chloe’s other grandma, who has saved the day several times even when she too is overwhelmed; and help from Chloe’s other grandpa.
  • Health insurance (us and finally for Chloe!) and a checkup for her.
  • This gorgeous dog who is asleep at my feet right now. This morning I went to Chloe’s room to let him out, and they were both bundled under the covers. I said “Where’s Junior,” and his head, all pointy ears. popped out.
Junior sleeping at my feet.

Junior sleeping at my feet.

  • Beautiful fall weather; rain; water in the creek where I walk after I take Chloe to school.
The creek in Stacy Park after the rains.

The creek in Stacy Park after the rains.

Morning glories on a fence.

Morning glories on a fence.

Night and morning skies: the best thing about retirement was getting enough sleep. The compensation is taking the dog out before bed and looking at the stars, and beautiful dawns and sunrises in the morning.


A recent TED radio hour featured talks on happiness. The gist was that the secret of happiness is gratitude every moment, whether it’s because your legs work or you can breathe, or you simply have enough.

I am grateful. And still cautious about autumn.


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