Autumn — A strange name for Fall
Fall. My first involvement with autumn leaves that I remember was when two of the York Avenue neighbor boys, Roger and Stacy, buried two giggling boys I didn’t know in a huge pile of leaves. I screamed bloody murder when Roger struck a match and started toward the occupied pile of leaves. At age four, I couldn’t tell whether somebody was kidding or not – on second thought, no one at any age can tell when somebody is kidding in a situation like that. The two kids in the pile exploded out of the pile and ran off.
Ahh, autumn! What an odd name to call fall – sounds a little uppity. So, each year, fall would inevitably come. It was the early forties. I had started at Garfield Elementary, and we kids had been back in school for a while. The air would get crisp and cool. We had to wear light jackets to ward off the chill, and swimming at the Packard Park swimming pool was just a fading memory. Mom would bring out the corduroy knickers that no self-respecting boy could possibly like. Homework, however simple, reared its ugly head.
If we didn’t go to the Harding football games on Friday nights, we could see the glow of the lights of the stadium in the distance, and we could hear (or maybe just feel) the beat of the drums in Charlie Corlett’s Warren G. Harding Presidents’ marching band.
You don’t have to go back too far to remember when we all raked leaves for burning. We usually did this in the early evenings after dark, using the streetlights for dim illumination. We bundled the leaves in a couple of sewn-together old bed sheets, and dragged that bundle to somewhere suitable for burning. There were leaf bonfires all over the neighborhood, especially after the dads came home from work to help with the raking and made sure we were safe around the fires. We kids would stand as near as possible to the fire with eyes tearing from the smoke and cheeks feverishly hot from the heat of the flames.
Often, someone would throw an apple or two in the middle of the blaze. Nothing seemed to taste better than a freshly-roasted apple that had been raked out of the fire. Of course, you had to wipe off all, or at least some, of the ashes on the apple’s skin. Potatoes were used, too, but they weren’t nearly as tasty.
We all tended these fires until they would slowly burn down – then stir the embers and whip our rakes up and down to make a sparkling cascade of hot orange ashes ascending into the black night.
What a beautiful, pungent, almost acrid odor permeated the neighborhood-the whole town for that matter! It was fall, and that delicious smell was one we welcomed. It marked another memorable passage of time in our lives. On windless nights, smoke would hang in layers all about the area. It was great to be outdoors so late into the night.
After the raking and burning tapered off – sometimes long after the 9 p.m. curfew blew – we kids would tumble into our homes, all bleary-eyed and ruddy-cheeked with clothes covered in ash and reeking of smoke – maybe with a smoky baked apple in hand. We had to get those dirty clothes off and quickly get into the tub in order to get ready for bed. We hoped our parents would tell us it was too late to do homework.
Not much thought was given to the possible harm we were doing to ourselves and the environment. But it sure was a wonderful, festive time that took a lot of the drudgery out of raking up all those leaves.
Nowadays, Warren has a great and reliable leaf pick up service. It’s just not the same. We still have all the labor of raking leaves, but we don’t have the fun of burning them, or the wonderful treat of eating a leaf-fired baked apple. Such is progress.
Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org