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Here comes fall 

Labor Day weekend turned out to be the best weekend - bar none - of the year so far for your old pal.

Labor Day weekend turned out to be the best weekend — bar none — of the year so far for your old pal.

We always love that first kiss of cooler weather, that day when you realize that the heat of summer has broken like a fever, and it's downhill to Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas from here. Soon, The Observer will be taking down the jacket from the hook on the bedroom door and slipping it on. Soon after that: the coat. Soon, The Observer will be flipping the lever in the Mobile Observatory from "Cool" to "Heat" and leaving it there. Soon, we'll go outside at night and think: "Wouldn't a fire be nice? A small, well-stoked fire of cured oak, periodically crackling handfuls of sparks into the night and with a tunnel of orange coal at its blast-furnace core — that, and perhaps a long stick to poke around in its ashes. Wouldn't that be nice?"

Ah, fall. Welcome back, old friend. How we have missed you.

We took advantage of the cooler weather on Labor Day to pack up the family and head to Hot Springs. There's something about that town that always makes us smile. It's not a particularly tidy place, but there's a charm in that too — a bit of gone-to-pot elegance that keeps us coming back.

Strolling Bathhouse Row, we stopped in a shop that happened to have rings in The Observer's size. We've got sausage fingers, size 14 on the wedding digit, so it's a rare bird to find a ring our size that we don't have to order. Too, over the past decade-and-a-half of marriage, The Observer has also developed a bad habit of losing wedding bands — there one second and gone like a puff of smoke the next. We've lost three so far, the most recent just a few months back. Spouse has suggested The Observer suffers from some sort of underlying, Freudian annoyance with wearing a symbol of wedded bliss. We, on the other hand, suspect that elves are making off with them in the night, perhaps for fancy hula-hoops.

The rings this particular shop had on hand were particularly of the biker variety: lots of writhing snakes, bats and bones. We selected one from the case — a fetching, sterling-silver band of interlocked skulls — and tried it on.

It looked kinda cool there on our finger, that grinning circle symbolizing — what? something, surely. We smiled, and thought of how our beskulled finger would look wrapped around the throttle of a burbling Harley. When we looked at Spouse, though, she was grinning as well. We began to suspect she didn't see the same symbolism in placing a ring of skulls where the ol' hitchin' shackle should be. Deterred from our impulse buy, we put the ring back in the foam tray and let the clerk slide it back under the counter. Then we went down a few doors and bought a chocolate cashew cluster and a block of fudge as big as a paperback book.

As we ate chocolate on the cool sidewalk with Sweetie and Son, we thought: Who needs a ring, anyway? If all these years have taught us nothing else, it's that what is in the heart, not on the finger, is what counts.

Jimmy Bryant, the director of archives and special collections at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, put out an inquiry recently on what colleges have in the way of archival material on 9/11. Bryant sent The Observer a link to UCA's collection: Newspaper reports, from the Log Cabin Democrat and UCA's The Echo to the New York Times; television reports, photographs, reactions from Arkansans, magazines, Internet posts, video. Letters written by children who were at school near the World Trade Center on 9/11. The text of the USA Patriot Act. UCA's alerts and protocols issued after the attacks. A white T-shirt in remembrance. The collected "Portraits of Grief" from the NY Times. A biography of Osama bin Laden. "Liberty Poker" playing cards.

In the distant future, some student will pull out these boxes and learn something of the disbelief the United States felt that day. He may find the material bewildering, experience his own disbelief that America could suffer such attacks on our supposedly safe, ocean-buffeted expanse. What he may not learn is the very different place the U.S. was pre-911, when we walked to airport gates with our shoes on, without passing through machines that examine our naked bodies for bombs. When library records were safe, and phone calls, too. When it was OK to go to Lake Maumelle's dam and look at the bald eagles there. Now those eagles are behind barbed wire, and too distant to see clearly. 

For more info on the UCA archive, visit www.uca.edu/archives/m0115.php.

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