As seasons change …


As does most everyone who is, for better or worse, equipped with a “smart” phone mine has an “ap” or “app” (I can never remember whether it’s one or two “p”s) that gives me the forecast at the touch of a fingertip. I did a double-take the other day when the website informed me that the high temperature on Friday would be a sunny 84 degrees and a rainy 54 the day after. A 30-degree drop in 24 hours, from warm bask to cold bath.

Ah, autumn. But of course: the major league playoffs are underway, impossible for me to ignore, and there’s college football aplenty, easier for me to ignore though impossible this year, what with the Razorback collapse. And our lawn: the September winds, grown stronger in the first days of October, leave fresh evidence of the change in seasons every morning — sprigs from the oaks that surround our place, nine or so still-green but fading leaves clinging to branches too small to withstand the rush of air. And I’ve been distracted for at least a couple weeks by the acorns peppering the roof.

Short blocks from our house are not one but two elementary schools, one public and the other parochial, and it is an August delight to watch the tots arriving for or departing from classes in their shorts and neat polo shirts, a joy that extends into these first days of October. Except by now they report to school equipped with light jackets, for the cool of the morning, and to be carried, not worn, by day’s end; or stuffed into the straps of their backpacks, evidently the briefcase of our epoch for students K-college, should the skies darken or the atmosphere chill in the hours before the final bell. I see my grandchildren in the faces of each of their contemporaries. I smile.

I wonder if they wonder at their parents wondering about their future. I can’t recall with much precision what I wondered about at their age but I doubt it was whether Ike or Adlai would prevail. More likely I was concerned with whether I would get one of the better swing seats during recess, or whether I could memorize whatever it was I was to memorize for the following day’s quiz. New words? State capitols? Or if that blonde girl with a spray of freckles across her nose would finally notice me. And I can’t remember whether she did, or even her name. But I hope she’s happy, wherever she is, and that her grandchildren, if she has any, are happy; and that they are not thinking about Barack or Mitt but about swings at recess, and aren’t overly concerned with the prospect of a pop quiz.

They are entitled to their childhood and I pray that each of them has one, a real one, unfettered by concerns about who is running their country, their state, their town. It is a burden for their elders to manage. I hope we manage it so as to make it less a burden for them. For they will inherit the world we make.

During what seems a world ago I was going through some papers left by my parents and discovered that the hospital bill, from the old St. Anthony’s hospital at Morrilton, which was yet another world earlier, charged them exactly $50 for my delivery, including my mother’s stay. Fifty bucks, to the penny. Perhaps I was bundled in more ways than one.

I thought about that receipt — handwritten, in elegant, fountain pen script — only a day or so ago when, for the first time in rather a while, I visited a maternity ward. It was not the difference in today’s clinical charges (astronomical, of course) nor the fine legible handwriting that captured my attention (the infant had first claim, of course) but the absence of handwriting. Each mothers’ room had a wall-mounted computer screen and keyboard along with the anticipated hi-tech monitoring equipment. No more patient charts, a nurse explained to me, at least not the charts that became obsolete in the early morning hours of September 30. No, recordkeeping is done on computers: physicians’ orders (doctors may type them in at the hospital, in their offices, in their homes or on the golf course, using smart phones or tablets or laptops) and nurses’ notes are entered in the patient’s computer file, as are, automatically, data from the omnipresent monitoring devices. A practitioner may check his or her patient’s blood pressure, etc., from wherever, and as easily as summoning the forecast from a weather ap, or app.

Autumn summons itself, as do, in their turn, the seasons that follow, in the world we are making for the children already in their school years, for the infants whose world will be different still. I hope we know what we are doing.

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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.