At the top of hill, down the street, towards the cove, there is a large old red maple. When all the other trees are still green, it’s the one we drive by, and have driven by my whole life, that is always the first to say, “fall’s coming.”
When I grew up coming here in the summers, the pattern was always the same. As soon as school ended in June, we moved up from Boston and my mother and I stayed all summer. My father went back and forth to Boston for work and his weekends became longer and longer as the summer rolled on.
Labor Day, we didn’t have a bbq or party, we packed up and headed back into town, opening windows at the house that hadn’t been opened in months, letting the fresh air blow through. Usually, I had a day or two to prepare and then it was back to school.
September or early October was also when my father left. My entire life, he headed East then for two or three months of work. After he died, and my mother carried on with the company for fifteen years, she too went East. For almost forty years, every fall, someone in the family headed that way.
Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Seoul, Manila, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Jakarta, Balikpapan, Pekanbaru, my father went, and then my mother followed.
I wonder now that they are both gone if she didn’t carry on with the company and its clients not just for the money, or for something to do, but maybe she knew, my father was happiest in Asia. Maybe she, like me, thought perhaps she could catch a glimpse of him in the markets and the streets, in the hotels and the restaurants he loved.
I wonder what it was like the first year she went after he died. The first moment at The Penisula in Hong Kong, or in Singapore, or in the jungle in Borneo he loved. Was it calming for her? Was it like holding a sweater from one gone, through choice or life, and breathing in deep, holding your breath, wishing their scent inside of you.
Or did it make the loss more complete, as she turned over stones, and he wasn’t there, maybe she got the closure that I never did that he was once and for always, truly gone.
My mother stopped traveling ten years or so ago, her dementia taking an early toll on her. So for a few years, no one headed East this time of year, and now, it’s my turn.
I leave next Thursday.
I’ll fly first to Bangkok, and then onto Vietnam. I don’t honestly know exactly what I am looking for, or what I will find. Some friends are worried I will be disappointed or won’t find what I seek out there. But I think I will. Somewhere in one of those cities, at a place and time as yet undetermined, I will share a moment, with my mother and my father, I will understand the trip he took he didn’t come back from, I will see it all, I think, a little clearer, a little crisper in the fall.
Not here, where the leaves are turning and the nights cool, but there, where he went every fall. Every fall, he planned his trip and backed his bags. Every fall, he kissed my mother good-bye and headed East. And this fall, it’s my turn.