Radio·Enright Essays

Michael Enright on why October is 'the queen of months'

It is the autumnal time between the T-shirt and the parka. Between the gin and tonic and the scotch and soda. October maintains some of the languor of summer as a countervail to the oncoming nasty winds and rainy days of November.

It's the time between T-shirt and parka before the nasty winds and rain of November

People watch late day sunshine from Riverdale Park East in Toronto on October 19, 2021. The glorious weather of October is a countervail to the oncoming nasty winds and rainy days of November, says Michael Enright. (Evan Buhler/The Canadian Press)

This is part of a series of columns by Michael Enright, reflecting his more than 50 years as a journalist and CBC broadcaster covering Canadian and global news events.

People are testy at this time of year. 

Cottagers are testy because they have had to trade the bucolic stillness of far away lakes for the noise and grit of the big city. Children are glad to be back in the classroom to see friends, but they generally aren't crazy about being back in the classroom itself.

Two neighbours not far from my house are not in the best of moods: they've had their expensive cars stolen out of their driveways during the night. And drivers are testy because city streets are torn apart for no apparent reason. But then, drivers are always angry about something. Lately it's been the cost of filling up the tank.

Inflation is running high, there's a horrific war in Europe, and we just lost a monarch who had been in our lives for almost a century.

Notwithstanding all this ill humour, hope is at hand. October, the queen of months, has arrived. 

A woman and man dressed up in bright costumes skip down a sidewalk lined with Halloween decorations such as pumpkins and ghosts.
In just one of October's highlights, Veronique L’Ecuyer as Luigi, left, and Gilian Chabin as Mario skip their way along a street on Halloween in Montreal, Oct. 31, 2021. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

October is a pivotal month. It is the autumnal time between the T-shirt and the parka. Between the gin and tonic and the scotch and soda. October maintains some of the languor of summer as a countervail to the oncoming nasty winds and rainy days of November.

Anne of Green Gables nailed it when she said, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." 

In a sense, October is more the property of children like Anne than other months are. It culminates in Halloween, to the delight of young goblins — although like other children's events, it has been somewhat co-opted by adults with their Halloween parties and sidewalk get-togethers.

Perhaps we should leave it to the children. Adults made a mess of October days and nights in two of the most frightening events of my lifetime: the 13 October days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the October Crisis of 1970.

Aerial view taken in October 1962 of one of the Cuban medium-range missile bases, during the Cuban missiles crisis, right. U.S. President John F. Kennedy makes a national television speech from Washington on October 22, 1962. (HO/AFP via Getty Images/Associated Press)

In October 1962, I had just started as a junior reporter at a Brampton, Ont., weekly newspaper, earning $35 a week. On Oct. 14, an American U2 spy plane took photographs that would reveal evidence of Soviet missile sites on the island of Cuba, less than 150 kilometres from Florida. On Oct. 22, new American president John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any Russian ships from placing more missiles there.

I remember lying in bed in Mrs. Graham's rooming house ($9 a week) and listening to Kennedy threaten the Soviet Union. Any missiles fired from Cuba, he said, would be considered launched from Russia and would be met with a full nuclear retaliatory response. 

That night, and over the next few days, the world — me included — took seriously the real possibility of a nuclear war, a Third World War. The crisis lasted 13 days and ended when Soviet ships turned back at the blockade, and missiles were removed from Cuba. For its part, the U.S. removed nuclear missiles from bases in Turkey. 

A crisis at home

On Oct. 5th, 1970, members of the FLQ, a radical Quebec separatist group that used violence in the cause of independence, kidnapped British diplomat James Cross from his Montreal home. Later in the month, they killed Quebec deputy premier Pierre Laporte. That led to the imposition of the War Measures Act and the mass arrests of hundreds.

A motorcade escorted by police turns off Martial street onto Pie IX street in Montreal with British Diplomat James Cross and his kidnappers during the FLQ crisis, Dec. 3, 1970. (The Canadian Press)

We survived the October Crisis, just as we survived (or more accurately, avoided) a Third World War. The boomers who lived through those Octobers would go on to get jobs, marry, buy a house, raise a family — and, in the eyes of some — mightily screw up things for the generations to come. 

But the Octobers wouldn't lose their magic. The turning of the leaves would still be breathtaking. October would continue to be that last inhalation of summer memories before the deadening hand of winter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Enright

Columnist and host

Michael Enright is the former host of The Sunday Edition on CBC Radio One. During his long career as a journalist, he has hosted other CBC Radio flagship shows, including This Country in the Morning, As It Happens, Rewind and This Morning. He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates and the Order of Canada.

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