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Autumn in Deerfield, Illinois

Fr. Joseph K. Horn
Southern California

Dedicated to Mrs. Mary Feifar (1924-2007) of Deerfield, Illinois,
my 4th grade teacher: the best teacher in the whole wide world!

How many of you grew up someplace else and then moved here to Southern California? Wow, more than half of you! Me too. I grew up in northern Illinois (insofar as I grew up at all). Ah yes; Deerfield, Illinois. I do not miss those winters! It gets so cold there that when you inhale it feels like a knife is being shoved up your nose! Nor do I miss the springs: terrible flooding from the melting snows and the wild, unpredictable thunderstorms and tornados. Nor do I miss the summers: 99 degrees in the shade, and 99% humidity, and a breeze coming from the wings of the thousands of mosquitos that swarm around you like miniature vampire bats.

But I have a confession to make. At this time every year, I do get homesick, just a little. Well, more than just a little. I mean, look, it’s not fair! Right now it’s autumn in Deerfield, Illinois, and it is NOT Autumn here in Southern California! No, it’s not! It’s still summer here! It’s always summer here, which is nice and all, but…

Man… This time of year I miss the sights of Autumn in Deerfield, Illinois! I miss seeing that rainbow of colors in the trees as the leaves change and begin to fall. I miss the sight of children romping in the piles of leaves. I miss the sight of smoke curling from chimneys. I miss the sight of hats, gloves, mittens and scarves as they reappear from attics and basement storage. I miss seeing the first frost etches on the window and on abandoned spider webs. I miss the first frozen puddle that you see while walking to school, and you step on it and hear the ice crunch just like biting a potato chip, CRUUUUUNCH! I miss seeing the corn shocks standing in the fields like abandoned Indian teepees. I miss seeing the front doors decorated festively with Indian corn. And oh, how I miss the stars at night so clear that you can almost hear them twinkle!

I miss the sounds of Autumn in Deerfield, Illinois. I miss the pop! of bursting milkweed pods in nearby fields. I miss the honks from overhead as the geese fly in V-formation south for the winter. I miss the sound of Dad splitting logs with an ax in the backyard as he makes firewood. I miss the crackle from the fireplace, the laughter of my brothers as my marshmallows always caught fire. And oh, how I miss the sound of the thrumming of rain on the roof at night, not like the frightening storms of spring when lightning and thunder keep you awake, but the gentle sound of autumn rain, a steady cold rain, lulling you sleep.

I like the fall
The mist and all
I like the night owl’s
Lonely call
And wailing sound
Of wind around

I like the gray
November day
And bare, dead boughs
That coldly sway
Against my pane
I like the rain

I like to sit
And laugh at it
And tend
My cozy fire a bit
I like the fall
The mist and all

And I miss the smells of autumn in Deerfield, Illinois. I miss the misty, moisty morning smell of the Indian Summer’s slow farewell. I miss the smell of leaves burning. I miss the autumn kitchen smells: jams, jellies and preserves cooking; pumpkin pie baking. I miss the smell of apple cider and the smell of fresh apple sauce, and oh, how I miss the smell of my mother’s apple butter, the best in the world!

Of course, all of this is an analogy.

We are all resident aliens, homesick for our true home, the new Jerusalem awaiting us. The deep-down dissatisfaction and discomfort we all feel occasionally is not just due to the fact that we’re old curmudgeons, but because we’re homesick for heaven! I sometimes feel so disappointed with politics and the daily news that I’m tempted to ask God to just take me now! But then I open my eyes and see so many good people, so much hope, such lofty goals… and I visit, if only in my memory, the breath-taking beauty of the autumns of my childhood… and I step outside and feel the glorious warmth of the California sun… and I remember that I live in a country where I can vote, in a state where snow skiing and surfing are both just a short drive away… then I tell God: Yes, I am homesick for Deerfield, Illinois, but I sure don’t mind living in California! Not at all! And although I am homesick for heaven, I sure don’t mind waiting just a little while longer!

"The Mist and All" is by Dixie Willson

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