Father and Son in the Final Glimmer of Fall’s Light


It’s late November and the sunlight seems to stream into the house sideways now, autumn’s last Hail Mary before winter. “Catch this,” the sun seems to say. “Catch this before I’m gone.”

“We should go outside,” I tell the boy.

“Let’s go,” he says.

And we run a few errands, then stop for an oil change and a car wash, the big car wash with the guy who looks like Sid Caesar in charge.

“Look at the guy,” I tell the boy.

“Who?” he asks.

“Sid Caesar,” I say.

“Who?” he asks.

We watch the guy who looks just like Sid Caesar. He walks proudly, stiff-backed and in clothes too nice for a car wash. He has Sid’s half sneer. If I’m reading him right, he’s capable of erupting at any moment.


“That one,” he barks at one of his workers, who pulls out a rag and attacks the wet car.

“That one,” he tells someone else.

I admire the efficiency of it, the fact that the workers know what they have to do and just get at it. No pre-car meetings. No team-building sessions.

A car comes out of the wash, they dry it off. Either they polish it completely, or Sid gets on their case. General Motors should run like this.

“That one,” barks Sid.


On the way home, we buy a furnace filter and talk about what a great Thanksgiving we had, how late on Thanksgiving evening--an hour after dinner--we decided to dissect the turkey’s heart, just to see what a turkey’s heart looked like. Ventricles. Aortic valve. Superior vena cava.

“There’s the carburetor,” someone pointed out.

“Turkey’s don’t have carburetors,” someone else said.

We spent at least 15 minutes studying the turkey’s heart, a strange little ritual that seemed to catch the children’s attention and teach them, in one small moment, how truly bizarre holiday gatherings can be.

“Then we ate it,” the boy says proudly.

“It was your mother’s idea,” I remind him.

“Yeah, but we ate it,” he says, as if still not quite believing his good fortune.

Back home, the boy and I pack away the Thanksgiving decorations, and the Halloween doormat we forgot the month before.

We wrap the storage boxes tight to keep the critters out. Once, I tell the boy, a friend opened a box of his family’s decorations and a mouse ran up his arm and into his hair. He showered for three days. Not the mouse, the friend. The mouse showered for a week.


“Probably a Christmas mouse,” the boy says when I tell him the story.

“Wrap them tight,” I say.

And I do some chores, just puttering around really, puttering around on a long fall weekend with the light coming at sharp angles through the trees and leaves piling up along the curb.


In many ways, this long Thanksgiving weekend is the best of the year, four days of roaring fires and roast turkey and leather couches that smell like footballs. November smells. Autumn’s smoky cologne.

“What are you going to do now?” my wife asks.

“Throw this football,” I tell her.

“What about the furnace filter?” she asks.

“I’ll throw that later,” I say.

“Dad, I found my 9-iron,” the boy says, waving it like a sword.

“Way to go,” I say.

The boy lines up a dozen plastic balls and smacks them over the house with his 9-iron, big rainbow shots that clear the chimney by a few inches before landing in the backyard.

Then he goes around back and lofts them back over the house to the front. Frontyard. Backyard. Frontyard. Backyard. If he ever plays a course with houses in the middle of it, he’ll be unstoppable.

“Wanna try?” he asks, offering me the club.

“No, you go,” I say.

And in the middle of his backswing, I tackle him, surprising him with my shoulder and driving him into the soft lawn. At first, he doesn’t know what happened.

“Nice hit,” the boy says as we wrestle on the ground.

“Thanks,” I say.

For 15 minutes, the boy and I wrestle on the ground. The boy is 13 now, and this is mostly how we hug each other, roughhousing on the lawn. When I’m feeling extra affectionate, I get him in a headlock and squeeze.


“How’s that?” I ask.

“Feels good,” the boy says.

“How’s that?” I ask, squeezing harder.

“Feels better,” says the boy, the tips of his ears red as a maple leaf.

And that’s how our long autumn afternoon goes. Chores. Wrestling. Golf.

By 3 p.m., the sun is already starting to leave. The boy and I lie exhausted in the cool grass. From the north, we get the first whiff of a Christmas tree lot a mile away, another sign that fall is fading.

We try to savor fall’s final days, appreciate them for what they are. Fleeting. Like weekends. Like childhood.

“Wanna take a shot?” the boy asks, handing me the 9-iron.

“No, you go,” I say.

“You sure?” he asks.

“You go,” I say, preparing for another tackle.

And in the middle of his backswing, December arrives.

Chris Erskine’s column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is