Dot’s Desk: Life in late autumn in Montclair
By DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK
For Montclair Local
“Dot’s Desk” looks at life from the point-of-view of a bestselling author. Dorothea Benton Frank has written 18 books that have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Her first novel, “Sullivan’s Island,” published in 2000, debuted on the New York Times list at number nine and went back to press over 25 times.
Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, SC. She divides her time between the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Montclair. Past board service includes The Montclair Art Museum, Whole Theater Company, The Drumthwacket Foundation, The NJ State Council on the Arts and The NJ Cultural Trust.
October and November roll around and our landscape burns in vibrant colors, ones impossible to remember from one year to the next. It’s not just the colors, it’s how they move and how the air smells. The light changes, it gets dark early and the air is crisp. The sun rises over Manhattan in a ball of fire. I am a very humble witness.
And there I go again, sliding down the years. It’s 1990 or any autumn in between 1986 and 2001. I’m on my way to the grocery store (again) on Valley Road or North Mountain Avenue. A gust of wind from nowhere shakes the trees. Suddenly I’m moving through a whirl of burnished gold, red and purple. My annual but inevitable medium-sized case of melancholy sets in. I hate that time goes by so quickly. But I love the days when Mother Nature shows her bold colors. Sometimes being bold is a good thing.
I’m a bit nostalgic for the days when my children were little. I remember so many Halloweens and how we took them trick-or-treating all over town, especially to Park Street. It rained or drizzled more years than not. The streets were dark and damp with cold and you had to watch where you stepped because tree roots had pushed up the edges of sidewalks. Front yards became cemeteries. Spider webs were stretched across boxwoods and azaleas. Tiny ghosts made with balloons and white napkins were hung by young hands among the lowest branches. Small animals made meals of the pumpkins that decorated my front steps, just as they did this year too. Dastardly little darlings.
And the leaves continue falling, football fields roar with fans and sweaters come down from the attic. Peter and I take a walk together, still holding hands after all these years and the pungent smell of someone’s first fire crackling away escapes their chimney and finds its way to us. He says, “Winter is around the corner.” I agree.
And here we are again. Boom! An unpredicted snowstorm blankets us and cars are spinning all up and down Claremont and Bloomfield, and Eagle Rock Avenue has become a literal sliding boards of destruction. A 20-car pile-up on the GWB. Nice. Winter is upon us before we could pull the spider webs from the shrubs and clean up the remnants of the squirrel/raccoon buffet and our festive, good intentions.
Thanksgiving sneaked up on us this year. What am I grateful for? Besides having a fabulous chef marry my daughter? Are you kidding? The list is longer than your leg. While I’m packing up Pilgrims and unpacking Christmas Mountain, this is when I thank the good Lord for so much, but I also examine my life — as a citizen of this beautiful place, as the mother of two wonderful adult children, the wife of a truly great man and recently a grandmother to a little boy so beautiful that my heart clenches when I think of him. I am reminded this is the time to be generous with affection, but also with resources and ideas and maybe to start making a plan for 2019.
How am I going make life better for those around me? (Except for two people and they know who they are.) I love the holidays and make no apologies for decorating my house like a department store. I can’t get enough Thanksgiving or Christmas. Maybe I’ll throw all our televisions out the window and watch Colbert, SNL and Hallmark on my computer. These days, I’d rather get my news from Stephen anyway. All those other guys give me anxiety.
Here’s another thought. Maybe I’ll focus on the good stuff and use the remainder of this year to experiment with civility. I’m so sick of rude people I could spit. (Is that rude?) I’ll be polite in all situations, and treat every last person with heightened regard. If we all did, we’d totally ruin New Jersey’s reputation of sometimes being a little rough around the edges. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Next time, let’s talk about fruit cake.