Autumn is Back!
can’t believe how much rain we have received this year. Granted, the bulk of the water has come from two hurricanes, but overall, the summer was still wet when compared to others. Usually we talk about drought conditions during the ‘dog days,’ of those typical non-relenting summer seasons. Not so much this year. Farmers that planted crops like soy beans, corn, cotton, tobacco, and others may have an abundant harvest this year, but I understand that the pumpkin output was surprisingly hurt by the amount of rain. I know prices are up as supply diminishes. Apparently, the bees cannot fly and pollinate when it’s raining and that means a lot of those female pumpkins blooms weren’t visited by nature’s wonderful little workers. Thank goodness there are many other farm products that make good harvests. Fall brings about hunting season for various kinds of game that bring meat for outdoor cooking of wonderful Brunswick stew. It’s time for hot biscuits and sorghum molasses. I remember putting on warm sweaters or even coats to ward off those chilly Friday night football games, cookouts, and hay rides. Merchants are at the ready to supply us with Halloween candy. I loved candy corn and worked on my skills of biting off each kernel, one color at a time. Who could forget those grand Thanksgiving meals and the cakes and pies to follow?
Fall is the season when our eyes are blessed with displays of colorful leaves. We welcome then warm sun washing over us as if it were the last chance before the onset of winter. All around town people were setting up displays including a bale of straw, a carved pumpkin, and a scarecrow decoration outside the front door. Teachers in their classrooms and the merchants downtown strategically placed orange posters, jack-o-lanterns, and colorful wreathes in celebration of another special time of the year.
Sometimes it is an old photograph, or an old favorite tune wafting out of a neighbor’s open window that stirs our memories. This is the time to bake pies, cakes, turnovers, and other delights using pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and blackberries. It is also apple picking time, so apple sauce and apple butter is served with just out of the oven baked biscuits.
Outdoor festivals put on by churches or civic groups put out smells that delight our senses. Freshly pressed and heated hot cider is another treat to sip when watching the children run through crisp, brightly colored leaves while playing a game of tag. We hear the shouts of ‘you’re it,’ or ‘Ollie, Ollie Oxen Free.’ We look forward to hayrides that come along at dusk. The full moon lights the way through the forested paths. The air stiffens as if to purposely create blankets of fog to float above the lakes, valley’s and streams as if to hide Ichabod Crane who is still looking for his head. While he rides like the wind, a gaggle of witches in black robes and pointed hats stir their concoctions of magical brew. It is the time of costume parties and celebrations of our seeing yet another harvest. So much to do, so little time.
The whole point of this weekly column is to revisit long-forgotten memories of the times when we lived in an earlier century. Because we are walking, living data storage centers, specific memories often rush into our minds when something keys a picture of our past. While the thoughts and their accompanying feelings may be haunting for some, most see these memories as a pleasant reminder of friends and loved ones. These memories take us back to a slower, simpler time when we were young, and life was good. We were naïve, but so hungry to uncover life’s mysteries. It was a time when we had little knowledge of adult responsibilities to build a career or raise a family.
Like the ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ I believe that tradition is important to our families. This is especially true for preteens, adolescents, and youth. Traditions are the basis of our early training and bonding with each other. Even our family dog looks forward to our evening ritual when Suzie and I sit down and bring up another British mystery on our television. Failure to do this messes up the routine for her, and for us, too. Even our kids and grandkids are quick to remind us if we stray from established patterns and don’t do things the way we ‘always do.’ We think they don’t care, but leave out a favorite dish at Thanksgiving and you will hear the complaints and disappointments.
We all find comfort in structure, routine and tradition. I look forward to finding my favorite chair and settling into our nightly rituals. We are ‘creatures of habit’ and those habits often define us. We remember the ‘good ole days,’ because they explain the complexity of our makeup. As we age we see that life goes all too quickly. Yes, there may be empty chairs about, but fresh young ones fill those vacancies and add their own flavor to the simmering stew. The old traditions trickle down to become theirs, as well, but each adds to the mix. We find security and comfort knowing that regardless of what happens, the fall leaves will again jump with vivid color, the apple crop will mature, and our favorite dish will find its way to the table.
Often overlooked, the fall season is rich in activities, not only to prepare us for the winter to follow, but to reward us for summer’s hard work. The season is rooted in family history. Many of us remember fall apple harvests with a degree of fondness. As already mentioned, it is the time for making spicy apple pies, apple turnovers, apple cobbler, apple butter, apple sauce, and finally apple juice and cider. Some families, or organizations have a tradition of breaking out a copper or a big, black, cast iron pot to make apple butter and Brunswick stew. Hunters may add a bit of squirrel, venison, duck, goose, or rabbit to the mix, along with corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and other late ripening produce that may be at hand. Even the wood fire becomes a part of the celebration as we say our goodbyes to summer after feeling the chill of cooler days. We are reminded of the snows and remind ourselves that it is nearly time to break out some of granny’s quilts. We’ll need coats and jackets, long sleeved shirts, and maybe wool long johns, and boots. Today, Indian summer will warm us, but only for a time.
On the farm, hay is being baled and stored, some in the barn loft, some in the fields in bales, or giant rolls. Silage is chopped and added to silos, or corn cribs. Fresh cut cane is ground into sorghum and grapes are made into wine. The young and young at heart will enjoy those fun, romantic hayrides, fall camps, pumpkin picking, bonfires, and leaf raking. Hot cider and hot chocolate is served as the sun sets earlier and families find a spot to relax and let dinner settle. It is a time to share memories. Spinning a yarn or two or passing a piece of family history to one or more of the attentive kids. This will cement the bonds between generations. It is comforting for the kids to know they are a part of family history. For musical families various instruments are taken up and songs are sung. Gospel music rings out from porches and country churches as even the youngest learns the joy of performing. Fall is a blessed time and reminds us that all is well in the world.
When I was a teen I realized that fall was for many, their payday. Farmers had worked hard all year but it is in the fall when the cotton is picked, and the last of the season’s produce goes to market. Whether tobacco, corn, hay, soy bean, pumpkins or turkeys, the rewards of income pay off. In celebration, the Thanksgiving dinner is planned and invitations to the ‘homecoming’ are written.
I remember a day in my youth when I sat lazily in a boat on a crystal clear lake not at all caring if the fish were biting. The warmth of the sun, the mirror reflections on the water of yellow and red maples, and the knowledge that God’s world is a blessing worth a moment of rest and reflection. For once, there was no hurry. I wish that feeling for each of you this season, my friends. firstname.lastname@example.org