Fall used to be yellow.
Much less the color of the leaves and more the color of corn in my hands. I have a hazy memory of walking through a corn maze with my family when I was eight or nine. I remember shucking cobs and leaving the husks on the paths, marking the ways we’d been. I remember the way the corn towered over me. An all-surrounding yellow, one that almost consumed me. Above me, around me, in my hands and under my feet.
Now, in Ann Arbor, yellow comes in scarce doses. There are no cornfield walls, just yellow leaves, mixed in with the red and orange and green. I see yellow in my lemonade and at the Big House, but the yellow grows to be few and far between. That yellow is nice, don’t get me wrong, but that yellow doesn’t quite feel like home.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that seems about right to me. As my to-do list grows longer, my heart grows heavier, and I think about those days in the cornfields much more. I think about worming my way through the mazes with my family. I think about my dad lifting me over his head until, for as far as I can see, there is yellow corn, consuming the earth like it had just consumed me.
In all reality, though, I wasn’t all that passionate about the corn when I saw it back then. The yellow memory is clearer — a yellow I know I can’t grasp again.
All I have now is the yellow of Ann Arbor — a manufactured maize pumped with marketing material. That yellow doesn’t feel the same as the hair of corn between my fingers, or the crunch of husks beneath my feet. Now I wish I hadn’t rushed through that corn maze at the moment. I wish I had more memories of the yellow enveloping me. Instead all I have are these hazy images, and even so I can find nothing that compares. I wish to have that innocence again, that safety, shucking yellow corn because I was bored, waiting to go home.
The yellow in Ann Arbor, and the yellow back home, reminds me that there is something that is lost now. That there is something I cannot get back. That doesn’t stop me from trying, from chasing it through the memories of yellow, the yellow of Michigan, the yellow of not just fall, but of all the seasons, all year round.
I can’t remember when my family stopped putting up Christmas lights.
We’re not the only dark house on the block during the holiday season, but we certainly stand out when squashed between red and green lights, maybe some purple. A house down the street glitters with white, light-up snowflakes. Another house projects different Christmas-themed images on the side of the house.
I think we stopped putting up the lights because it got too hard for my dad to do on his own. That is a real shame, because my father had hands for lights like no other. We had Santa and all of his reindeer, crashing their sleigh into our snow-topped roof. We had snowmen glowing in our front yard. Every line, every window, decked with lights.
And all of them were yellow.
They were beautiful. I remember seeing them for the first time each year, and feeling that yellow haze light up my entire body. Back then, our house earned a sparkling reputation on our neighborhood block. The yellow outshined all the red and green, the sparkling snowflakes, the projectors. My driveway, my porch, once mundane and almost ugly, became a magical place.
Many years later, I no longer lived on that street. I was a college student, far away from home for the first time in my life. I lived in Ann Arbor — Mary Markley to be precise —and there were no lights in my dorm hall, which was a real shame, because if anyone needs a bit of magic, it’s a college freshman during the holiday season. It was my first snow away from home, and frankly, it was my first everything away from home. That weight hung heavy on my heart, as heavy as the lights probably felt in my dad’s arms as he carried them up the ladder.
When I pulled up to my home, finally back for Christmas break my freshman year, our house was still dark, as it had been for years. I sighed a little bit, and thought maybe the magic I needed wasn’t here.
But it was.
I stepped inside my house, my mother smiling at me as she showed me the various lights and settings. Finally, she clicked on one I recognized.
They were yellow.
And as I smiled at my mother and told her “That one, definitely that one,” I no longer missed our yellow Christmas lights.
I stared at that Christmas tree and thought about those weeks I was home last December. I thought of my family, and about how stupid I was to consider for even a second that what I needed after a semester away wasn’t all right there nestled in our living room. I often felt a twinge of anger, like the one I feel when I try to recreate that image of the yellow corn. Anger at myself, at how cruel it is that I only know how much I love something, how much I want something, when I can’t have it, and can’t get it back.
But as I loaded up my car with my older sister, preparing to head back to campus after break, I looked at my driveway, my porch, and I remembered that while it may not be the same magic I felt those nights I saw the lights, that my home was still a magical place. I took that feeling and held it in my chest, to carry with me to Ann Arbor, to my dorm, because while that place didn’t feel all that magical to me, I knew I had somewhere. Somewhere where I could run to for a bit of magic, whenever I needed it.
My driveway is a promise of home, a promise that there will always be a parking space for me here. My porch is a promise that there will always be a place for me and my father to sit and talk without prying ears. My living room is a promise that there are many good nights ahead with my sisters and my mother, bickering over what to watch. My kitchen is a promise that there are many more trays of brownies and delicious steak dinners I cook with my entire family, the smells wafting into my nose as their unending love, their unending kindness and warmth, fills my heart with a heat no meal could ever provide. And it was all yellow.
Tears begin to burn in my eyes as I stare at my house, still the darkest one on the street to everyone else, but not to me. I can see the light. Maybe it’s not in the form of Santa and his reindeer, maybe it’s not in the form of snowmen with my sisters and lights with my parents, but it’s there, it’s real.
I got into my car and, for the first time, I didn’t feel guilty that I hadn’t felt so grateful before. I was only thankful for how much I had, just how much love was in my life. As my sister got into the driver’s seat and pulled out of the driveway, I looked back at our house one more time. To me, it was glowing.
Spring, to me, is both a beautiful and ugly time of year.
For those who have not experienced a spring in Michigan, it is bits of warmth intermixed with harsh bouts of rain, the sight of dirty, half-melted snow and the unending feeling of being not-quite-dry.
But to me, spring can also be beautiful.
I stepped out of my dorm hall sometime last year, and on my way to class, I saw a single daffodil peak out of the grass, bright yellow against the green. I smiled. The beautiful thing about a Michigan spring is the yellow of daffodils.
Because that yellow brings me back. Brings me back to the large space in our suburban neighborhood where no houses were built because the ground was too shifty, with small, rolling hills. That large square is filled with green, green grass and usually serves as a spot for dogs on walks throughout the neighborhood to stop for a bathroom break.
But, for a few good weeks, that patch of hilly, uneven land is the sign that summer is coming. Because it turns yellow.
There are so many daffodils that poke out of the grass that you can barely see the green. When I was little, my older sister took me out on our bikes on the first good, warm day and we roamed the yellow field and picked the daffodils. We picked the yellow until we filled both baskets on our bikes. There was enough to make bouquets for each of us, and one for my mother to stuff in a tiny vase to bring to work and, of course, one left to tuck behind my fathers ear and enjoy the few good seconds he’d let it stay there.
And there was enough to make a flower crown for my older sister, for me and a tiny one for my little sister, Abbey, who was too young to ride a bike to the field at the time.
But then, a few years later, when she was old enough, I took her out to the field of gold.
I stood by my bike and watched her run around in that field, picking every daffodil she could see. She was almost overwhelmed by it all. There were too many to pick, she hopped up and darted across the meadow for a different patch, as if she wanted to pick them in sparse enough places as to not disrupt the yellow wave that overwhelmed the green that lurked below, so that the meadow remained in tact for all the people, and all the dogs, who walked by it.
I snapped a few pictures of her. I can still remember the shade of blue of the T-shirt she was wearing, the way she had rolled up her jeans to just below her knees to let the petals of the little, yellow flowers brushing against her shins. I remember the low ponytail her straw-yellow hair was pulled into. But what I remember most clearly is the huge smile on her face and the overwhelming feeling of love in my chest.
I was passing down something my older sister had once granted to me. I was giving her the memory I cherished, and in return, she was giving me another. I looked at the daffodil poking out of the grass back in Ann Arbor, the first of many that were sure to come as the spring churned on toward summer, and I thought about my sisters.
For the first time, I thought about how it was a truly beautiful thing to be a middle sibling. To be the older and the younger. To be the child to one and the adult to another. To be given two best friends in this life, with whom I can share every daffodil.
My heart ached for both of them. My older sister wasn’t far, probably in class somewhere on campus, but my little sister was over an hour away. I wished both of them were there with me, staring at the daffodil and remembering. I wonder if they would remember it, the field of daffodils. I wondered if that memory meant the same to them as it did to me.
I wanted to pluck the daffodil in Ann Arbor, but I was scared. I didn’t want to take that memory away from someone, someone like my sisters.
But then I remembered something — if I plucked this daffodil, more would follow.
I plucked the daffodil and held it under my nose, twisted it between my thumb and pointer finger. I took in the yellow and felt guiltless for taking. Many more would follow it. Like the many more moments I shared with my sisters had followed those days in the field of daffodils.
It was that daffodil that made spring beautiful to me, even when it could be ugly. It was my sisters that made this life beautiful to me, even when it could be ugly.
And though that daffodil wound up dried up in a dorm trash can a few days later, I knew that, no matter how far away from my sisters I was, across campus, over an hour away or across the world, we would be bound together, like yellow daffodils in a crown. We made this life beautiful for each other. We were always meant to.
Summer, to me, is days in our lake house backyard, watching Ultimate Fighting Championship with my dad, or parking our boat. Summer is an abundance of yellow. It is sunshine and yellow swimsuits and the urge to bleach my hair. It is a fight over what to make or where to go for dinner, silly and simple. It is my sister’s smile. It is my mother and father not staring at me for a few months in the way they stare at me when they know I have to leave soon.
And that means that summer is the perfect place to end.
Because summer means family, it also means no school, it means that Ann Arbor is empty, and it means many people, not just myself, are going home. I am sure not everybody is privileged enough to have the kind of love and beautiful memories that my family has gifted me. I am also sure that, for many, Ann Arbor is the first home that they have ever had. But I am most sure those people are just as grateful for it as I am.
Because I am grateful for Ann Arbor. Not just for the independence, the education, the parties, the friends, but for giving me a gift that I didn’t see coming, that I didn’t know I desperately needed.
It gave me yellow. It gave me the knowledge that the memories of my childhood were gone, like the yellow of the cornfields. It gave me the knowledge that, while those memories were gone, there were still many more, and there was still a magic like those yellow Christmas lights wherever my family went. It gave me the reminder that I carried my sister’s love with me everywhere I went, like a daffodil in my pocket.
Summer is an abundance of family. Last summer, I thought I would be desperate to continue, but I wasn’t scared when this school year started.
My family is in the cornfields that remind me of what I’ve lost and in the yellow glow of dorm room lights that remind me of Christmas. My family is in the wet leaves on the streets that remind me of the disgusting wetness of spring and the daffodils that follow. My family is in every bright, yellow, sunny day.
My family is yellow. Yellow is with me everywhere I go. I could not learn this until I was far away enough that I needed to seek out the yellow for comfort, and it is there. It’s always been there. And it always brings me back home.
Statement Correspondent Riley Hodder can be reached at email@example.com.