The picture window in the lounge looked out on the village green and directly in my view was the large tree. It was one of the first things I saw each morning, whether collecting fresh milk by the front door or opening the curtains in the lounge. Daily I watched the leaves make their annual change from green to yellow before falling, carpeting the ground below. I was used to this change, having seen something like it every autumn of my life in Arkansas and found comfort in seeing something familiar so far from home.
I was still adjusting to life in England, still settling in. The little things seemed to wear on me the most, a condition referred to as cultural fatigue. The shock of the new had worn off, but it had not yet become the norm. I was still curious about things and tried to maintain a sense of adventure, but some days I just wanted to feel at home again.
The weather continued damp and chilly with the sun occasionally breaking through the gray cloud. The days were getting shorter, but like the falling leaves, I was used to in the northern hemisphere. Living much further north, however, made it much more pronounced. Before leaving the States, people had cautioned about the dark winter days, saying that many found it a depressing time. As the days shortened and we headed toward the time change, locals asked how I was coping with it. Turns out many of them had the same struggle each year and were concerned about me. I became rather obsessed with watching the change, daily reading sunrise and sunset times in the paper and watching the sunrise move closer to the horizon each week.
I don’t remember paying much attention to the sun’s movements before that year. Since then, however, I am more acutely aware of when the light appears each day and when it ends. Would this awareness have happened if I had not gone through the more drastic change in England?
The most interesting thing I discovered while writing this is that my memory seems to be flawed. As I continue to study memoir writing, I keep hearing how what we remember so clearly is not what actually happened. This essay brought that sharply to my attention.
I clearly remember that for one week in October, the sun set 15 minutes earlier each day. I saw the sunrise and sunset times posted in the London Times each day, following the loss of light with dread. I worried that if it continued, we would be in total darkness for weeks and remember even commenting on this to someone. But something led me to search for sunrise and sunset times in East Yorkshire for this October. What I found was a gradual change, 4-5 minutes each day. Stunned I searched for the times from 30 years ago, but they are not available. Confused, I searched November and December thinking I got the month wrong. I never did find it. I cannot believe it did not happen and I am baffled how this came to be my memory.
Shocked by this I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish this essay. If my memory is so flawed on this, what else am I wrong about. Yet at some point, it is not about when the sunset in October 1988. It is about the fact the days were getting shorter, how I felt going through it and the long-term impact it had on me. I can only remember to the best of my ability and share it with others in the best way I can.