Let’s hear it for fall firsts

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, September 27, 2020 in The Gaston Gazette and five other newspapers throughout North and South Carolina.

The first thing I did was dig deep into the back of the shed and pull out the fire pit. It was buried behind the lawn mower, the wheelbarrow and all of the other miscellaneous gardening supplies.

Once I located it, I then had to root all around inside to find the fire pit cover, the fire poker and the marshmallow roasting sticks. Going to all this trouble on a crisp autumn day in the Carolinas can only mean one thing: It was time for the first fire pit of the season.

This got the neighborhood kids talking. They aren’t easily impressed. I’ve found that word spreads pretty fast among nine and 10-year-olds when they are excited about something.

There can only be one ‘first fire pit’ of the season. It’s one of the classic fall firsts. It’s like Opening Day in baseball, or that special feeling race fans get in February when that green flag drops for the first time in Daytona.

No one is clamoring for a fire pit in the heat of summer. People are clamoring more for the comfort of their air-conditioned homes. But then, “all at once”, as Oscar Wilde once said, “summer collapsed into fall.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment of the collapse, but when it happens, everyone knows it. People start to emerge from their homes. Neighbors wave at other neighbors. There’s a noticeable pep in everyone’s step as a result of the change in the season.

There’s just something about these fall firsts. Doesn’t matter if it’s the first homemade soup in the crock pot, or if it’s the first time the cool autumn air forces you to put on a jacket. These are special moments.

It’s such a great feeling to be able to turn off the air-conditioner for once and crack open the windows for the first time to let in some fresh air. All of these firsts add up. It’s what we’ve been waiting for.

And in the case of my fire pit gathering I had last weekend, we all had our first s’mores of the season. Some had it with the chocolate and some had it without. One kid even made a double decker s’mores sandwich with two marshmallows and three graham crackers. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, as long as it’s made, eaten and enjoyed by the fire.

These aren’t the only firsts we will mark this season. This will also be our first fall living in the middle of a global pandemic. We made it through our first spring and we survived our first summer. Now we turn our eyes to fall and everything that comes with it.

There will be our first Halloween. And, in a few months, our first Thanksgiving.

The seasons keep bleeding into one another, and we keep doing the same things we’ve been told to do from the start of all this: We keep social distancing, wearing a mask and washing our hands.

Fall, and all of its seasonal comforts, is back, but we can’t let ourselves get too comfortable or complacent. Fall may feel like a new beginning, but when it comes to the pandemic, we’re still right in the middle of it. Even Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last month that he thinks this could be “the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had.”

That’s sobering news, for sure. Certainly not what we wanted to hear.

Normal still feels a long way off, but I think we all have done a pretty good job at adapting to this whole ordeal.

So here’s to all those fall firsts! May they refresh and comfort you. Let’s be sure to celebrate and enjoy them as they come, with the hopes that someday soon, this season of COVID can one day collapse into a cure.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at ben@thebendungan.com and read more from him at www.TheBenDungan.com.