What is it about autumn? During my last visit with you, by mid-afternoon I was turning on all the lights in your apartment. Overhead lights, table lamps, the kitchen and hall lights, anything to make the day seem brighter, longer.
October is a month that seems to tell us to slow down, to rest and brace for the winter days ahead. October means shorter days with less light, but also mood swings that match color swings. Leaves change from green to gold, red, orange and yellow, brilliant at first, but then they turn brown and fall from the trees, leaving spindly bare branches.
October is one of the SADD months, when less light causes Seasonal Affective Depression Disorder in many people, which causes problems including making them feel less energetic, creative and hopeful. (I learned that SADD is also actually an acronym for numerous situations and organizations, including Students Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Senior Attention Deficit Disorder, and my favorite now that our daughter Molly found this and pointed it out–Same Accident Different Day–which is a real acronym, too.)
Some adults, and many children, might think that Halloween is the only bright spot in October. But there’s another day coming soon that should make us all smile: Sweetest Day. In 1922 Herbert Birch Kingston declared the third Saturday of October as Sweetest Day. Herbert Kingston was a Cleveland, Ohio philanthropist and candy company employee. To show orphans, shut-ins and the under-priveleged that they were not forgotten, on Sweetest Day he gave them candy and small gifts, and he often recruited movie stars to distribute the gifts. For instance, on the first Sweetest Day in 1922, movie star Ann Pennington presented 2,200 Cleveland newspaper boys with boxes of candy in appreciation for their service to the public.
Mom, you were only four years old when Herbert Birch Kingston initiated the first Sweetest Day, and I don’t know if you ever realized that each year the third Saturday in October was the day of this celebration. But I’ll tell you what I do remember you saying about “blue” days, cloudy or feeling-down days that people complained about. You said that the best way to cheer yourself up was to help someone else. To make your own day brighter and happier, the best thing to do was brighten another’s day.
I remember gray rainy days, not just in October but also in other months, when I’d come into the kitchen and you’d be kneading bread dough or baking cookies or making jam to pour in pretty little jars. It wasn’t just your regular baking. When the project was done, you’d take a jar or a wrapped loaf or plate of cookies and go to visit someone who was ill or was alone or troubled. And you’d send me out, too, with another treat to deliver to someone. As I got older, I could choose the neighbor or friend on my own, because I’d picked up from you the message of cheer or friendship that would be delivered along with the goodies.
Were you doing it for them, Mom, or sometimes were you also doing it for yourself? Is this why I don’t remember you being discouraged or lethargic or sad…because you encouraged yourself at the same time you encouraged others?
Thank you, Herbert Birch Kingston, for your generosity and concern on Sweetest Day. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth Hoover Shepherd, for your generosity and concern for others during any other days that needed a little sweetness.
This year, Sweetest Day is next Saturday, October 20th. Friday, October 19th, is “Evaluate Your Life” Day. Hmm. Not a bad combination. October is looking better and brighter already.