Dear Boots: October 2023

By Anna Mitchael

Questions from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Dear Boots,

Now that fall is finally here, I’m ready to get decorating. What’s your feeling about pumpkins on the porch? Carved? Not carved? How do you feel about gourds? How much decoration can I add without going too far?

— From, Gramma Gourd

Here’s a fun fact: For three years I worked as an editor at a home-and-lifestyle magazine. During those years the amount of time I spent thinking about all the ways one might decorate a front porch to signal the start of a season can only be described with one word: shocking.

In all the hours and hours and hours I have spent reviewing front porch fall arrangements, I amassed a pile of knowledge about carved, natural, pricy, posh, pristine, lumpy, bumpy, ugly, glittery, sparkly, tie-dyed and fake pumpkins.

Since leaving the magazine world, I have had moments where I’ve wondered what I will ever do with all that knowledge. Short of hanging around the aisles of Hobby Lobby, hoping some fall-decor shopper might suddenly strike up a conversation, it seemed likely all I learned would go to waste. Or worse, be confirmed as a waste of brain space I could have spent considering urban crowding, or why homecoming mums are now bigger than compact-sized cars. Real world issues.

But your letter has saved me from that fate, Gramma Gourd. Because here’s what you and I know: a simply carved happy face can be read as both friendly and too basic. Going for an artful arrangement of smooth, uncarved pumpkins says sophisticated to some but trying too hard to others. Yet skipping pumpkins altogether and opting for a shift to autumn foliage in the planters might not be enough to get noticed.

If the options for how to advertise your fall feelings are endless … how the scarecrow does a person determine the correct course?

Buckle your belt for the hayride, Gramma Gourd, because we’re about to go off-road: You’re going to have to figure out what will give you great joy every single time you walk up to your front porch.

Forget the visitors and the passersby and what your mother-in-law said in 1987 when she thought your skeleton decoration was “overt, but if you like it …”. Contrary to what the home-and-lifestyle industry wants us to believe, whether our front porches are on or off trend has absolutely nothing to do with who we are. I’ve seen beautiful, impeccable, artful and beautiful arrangements created by people filled with misery. And I’ve seen the cheesiest, tackiest, most over-the-top gatherings of autumn paraphernalia you can fathom put together by people who bubbled with so much life that you wanted to scooch a little closer to them just to see if you could catch a bit of their natural high.

So Gramma, I say carve if you want. Spend way too much on a set of sparkly pink pumpkins if you dare. Skip decorating and celebrate fall by lighting a candle, cranking up the AC and pulling out your sweaters too early. Whatever you do, just don’t think twice about what anyone else may say. Chances are good they’ll have one word about your cavalier style: shocking. But if they are smart, they’ll recognize they’ve just encountered someone who is worth following in the real world.

— Love, Boots

Dear Boots,

One of my good friends just transferred her kids to a high school that is our rival. I never thought it would affect our friendship, but now that the first football game showdown is approaching things have gotten weird. Got any advice?

— From, Varsity Blues

Just the other day I was saying it sure will be nice to get to a place where you can go the whole fall semester without any football drama. I was thinking of a place like an empty nest, or if that’s hoping for too much, maybe the hereafter. Without missing a beat, the parent next to me in the bleachers said, “You mean a place like Vermont?”

But even if we were planted in a place that didn’t do football drama, it would still have relationship weirdness — that’s life, not geography. A sure indicator of how much a relationship matters to us is equal to how far we will walk out on a limb to make that weirdness go away.

If you prefer to stay close to the tree trunk, dressed in your team colors, safely huddled with your mom friends who have not defected to enemy territory, then remember that football is but a season. It too, shall pass. Maybe weird today will be forgotten after a few tomorrows.

However, if the weirdness has made you realize the value of this person in your life, then it might be time to start tiptoeing out into vulnerable territory. Pick up the phone. Call your friend. Attempt to talk things out. If it works, the friendship is saved. If it doesn’t, you will end up out there alone — but you will have gained a much more important truth.

It’s easy to get distracted into believing sport is only for the people running on the field. But really it’s out there on the limbs of life — hearts pounding, selves exposed — where we know we are in the game too.

— Love, Boots