An enthusiasic ode to the pumpkin candle

As I work my way through Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, I can’t help but compose my own essays on … well, not delight. I have to tweak it to make it me, which would be to call these enthusiasms.

At a birthday dinner years back, at a perfectly fine restaurant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, made even better because they could drag four tables together for my party of 11 (that odd loner was my bff Stephanie, in town for the celebration, which made her throw her head back and laugh, “I’m literally the 11th wheel”). And this restaurant had a salad bar with some impossibly good chicken fideo soup. I danced up to the bar two or three times for more, and I don’t use the word danced lightly or figuratively. Truly, I danced up there, as anyone who has dined with me can tell you: I have a happy food dance I deploy liberally.

The aforementioned bff and I at the place with the perfect soup. Here’s another enthusiasm: I pulled this photo off Facebook, which tells me 1) this party was a full decade ago and 2) Stephanie was not the 11th wheel: She said she was the 13th wheel. To which I apparently replied, “Nah, Jeff is.” What can I say—she usurps my husband when she visits.

Apparently, during one of my boogies up to the salad bar for the World’s Best Chicken Fideo Soup, my dear friend Steve turned to my husband and said, “She’s such an enthusiast,” a comment I think of often, because I’ve long thought what other people think of us is none of our business, but if I’m going to get a “You know what Steve said?” betrayal of trust from my husband, where “betrayal” is used inaccurately but I enjoy the juxtaposition of the incense of “betrayal” with the sweet commentary, then what a betrayal to choose.

Which is all an over-worded and roundabout way to get to the enthusiasm that popped to mind this morning as I read Gay’s essay No. 22, Lily on the Pants, which I loved so much, I read it the second time aloud to this empty room that echoes because the carpet folks aren’t coming for another week and a half. The enthusiasm I’m working my way toward on this spiraling path is this pumpkin candle on my fireplace.

I have no patience for the summer/fall debate that occurs every September. It’s a season. Whichever brings you more joy, go with it. It’s only the curmudgeons who care if you’re still sipping margaritas or turning to PSLs, and I have no tolerance for curmudgeons, unless they put me in mind of the grizzled old newspaper editor, which is a trope I adore and from whom I will forgive all sorts of rumblings. I’ve known too many to feel any other way, which is that the grizzled old newspaper editor curmudgeon is just a sweetheart covered in a façade of brambles.

Anyway. Back to my pumpkin candle, about which I feel so enthusiastic because, yes, it makes my house smell like fall, which for me is the in-between-time, which is my favorite. I can never answer “What’s your favorite season?” because I adore change too much. I don’t have a favorite season because my favorite times of the year are the four spaces between seasons, where the air gets confused and puts snow pants on in spring or a bikini for the hayride. And this pumpkin candle, it’s what our current between-space smells like.

And, when it’s lit all day, and my husband walks in after work, he breathes deeply and says, “That smells good,” which is one of the most unexpected enthusiasms of being married: Making the house smell good so my husband walks in and sighs. I like to cook, and the simple enthusiasm of sautéing some onions and garlic? That sigh it elicits? Oh, my heart. The chicken in the oven with Mediterranean spice? Chopping up some basil I’ve plucked from the pot on the windowsill? “Smells good in here.” It’s possibly the most traditionally domestic thing about me, a person who isn’t terribly traditional or terribly domestic: I like to cook for my husband, and light pumpkin candles, because I like to make the house smell good for him.

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