“WHEN I was a young man,” begins a song written in 1938 by Kurt Weil and Maxwell Anderson for a musical titled “Knickerbocker Holiday.” You know this “September Song,” because I’ll bet most of the folks reading this and getting ready for work, watering plants, having your cereal and fruit—have sufficient years to appreciate the allegory of September.
Measuring our lives by the calendar, we who have made it to September hope we are lucky enough to have an October, November and December. Even if we do, we concede that our race is about three-quarters run. We are retired, or planning on doing so when we can afford it, if by “afford” we include the caveat of trying to imagine what in the world we would do to fill our lives.
“When I was a young man…, I played me a waiting game.” And if things did not work out at first, “I let the old world take a couple of whirls, and as time came around, it came my way.” “Oh it’s a long, long while, from May to December, but the days grow short, when you reach September.”
There is melancholy in that confession, for “when the autumn weather, turns the leaves to flame, one hasn’t got time [left] for the waiting game.” Those bright hopes of May, career dreams that led so inevitably but too often misleadingly to owning your own company or a big house on the hill, or whatever goal youth focused upon, are, by September, either actualized or forgotten amid daily struggles that make reaching Friday a more attainable goal than any December.
We who live this song think about health more than wealth, unless it is to worry if we will outlive the nest egg set aside for our November and December. We wonder if the kids, who never seem sufficiently responsible or mature, will “make it” in a world without us to assist them.
We have worked at the same job long enough to know how to do it well, picking up that calf every day and building up the strength to keep on keeping on, no matter the exponential growth of the work, now realize that we are not indispensable and that someone, someone with greater technological skills and less years can do it faster and maybe better, and that is unsettling.
Right now, in September, we are at the top of our game, but the game changes, and we know not whether to let loose or hold on. Future fear is fearsome indeed. Time was, things came easily to us; now they are complicated and sometimes we are afraid of the dark, in these “days [that] dwindle down to a precious few.”
Archie P. McDonald was a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries were also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.