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Love and hate November

autumn path photo
In November, a smoky, low-ceilinged cloud cover settles around us, matted leaves underfoot and the chill of frost finding its way into the marrow of our bones.

FARGO, N.D. — I love November. 

I hate November.

On the up side, November is my birthday month and the month of Thanksgiving — a holiday that has remained simple and defied an onslaught of attempts to ruin it (yes, I’m talking about football all day long). Even as I say that, some of the big stores responsible for moving the start of Black Friday back into Thursday night, now plan to open earlier on Thanksgiving Day — a disgusting trend. If retailers treat Thanksgiving like another Labor Day or Memorial Day, it could be its deathblow. (Good grief, MACY’S is going to open on Thanksgiving. Has management no reverence for its own parade? Do the mucky-mucks not watch “Miracle on 34th Street”?)  

Oh, well, I have faith in the power of Thanksgiving to beat back America’s get-there-first shopping mentality and bring families to the table to count their blessings and eat very, very well.

On the downside, some of the saddest and least understandable events in my life have occurred in November, particularly the death of my godson in a tragic fall when he was 13 and the death of my daughter’s good friend to sudden illness at the age of 15. It was in November that I went to a medical appointment with my dad and heard the doctor tell him there were no good options for his heart problem. He might live two months or he might live two years.

He lived three months.

On a larger scale, November also carries the shroud of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination — a seminal event for my generation of baby boomers. Fifty years later the shock of his murder still resonates: Such a thing could not happen. 

But it did, and the tragedy remains the dividing line between a world we thought we understood and one of great upheaval—a world tilting towards chaos. In the early ’60s, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were simmering on back burners.  (The women’s movement was fledgling.) By 1968, when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were assassinated and in Vietnam, the loss in blood and treasure reached the highest annual level (almost 17,000 Americans killed and over 77 billion dollars spent), it seemed as if America were descending into madness. In fact, it’s hard to overstate the alienation of the times.

For my family, the sudden sense of absurdity Kennedy’s assassination thrust upon the nation became personal when my dad’s grain elevator burned down later that weekend.  The disorientation, confusion, and anxiety afflicting the national mood echoed at home: How could it be — with all the modern methods of security — that an assassin’s bullet managed to fell a president?  For that matter, how could a grain dust spark smolder and grow, reducing a towering structure to rubble between midnight and dawn?

Why care about anything if the fates are going to be fickle and perverted no matter what you do?  

Both on the upside and the downside in the northland, weather changes dramatically in November, temperatures plummeting and the stark angularity of winter taking hold.   In an instant, the change from daylight savings time back to standard time puts nightfall into late afternoon. Some years (too many years?) early snowfall shoves us unceremoniously into winter.

Most of them time, however, a smoky, low-ceilinged cloud cover settles around us, matted leaves underfoot and the chill of frost finding its way into the marrow of our bones.  Not yet far removed from September’s sunshine and the brilliance of October, we feel melancholy, the grayness of life’s journey. Intensity, complexity; mortality.

I hate November.

I love November.

A writer and columnist from Fargo, N.D., Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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