Fall is Here!
I should have known! Summer isn’t forever, and maybe that’s good. Fall reminds me of the winter that is to follow and the hope of spring when life is renewed with flowering plants and trees. The idea of having seasons brings up memories of certain activities. Finally, for once in my life, we have about six cord of firewood stacked in the shed in case of a cold winter. I finally put in my retirement papers at work and immediately went on vacation in hopes that a few weeks of “Indian Summer” may follow. Throughout my life I have considered fall to be harvest time. That isn’t because I personally have pumpkins to pick, but because of the availability of things I love. I enjoy fresh apples, newly ground sorghum, colorful porch decorations, and the rediscovery of warm sweaters. Folks are getting ready for harvest celebrations that had roots in the old countries in the dark ages. The good food such as roasting marshmallows over campfires and apple pies and sweet potatoes became part of our diet.
Fall includes the excitement of the introduction of a new season. As a kid it was about a new school year. That came complete with new teachers, new classmates, new subjects, and, of course, a new opportunity to support the Bulldogs on the old gridiron. For me and around a hundred others kids, it was marching band time, with half-time shows, parades, and lots of practice. Some couldn’t wait to don their uniforms, sometimes for the first time!
It was also a time when the evenings were just a little cooler; sometimes even biting. The cool evening winds sometimes would cut though our light clothing and we’d snuggle up, or get under a blanket to stay warm. When standing to watch a football game from the sidelines one could occasionally see their breath or those of the two teams as they panted from the last play. Yes, summer and the fun times of unbridled freedom was gone. It was replaced by team cheers, studies, wool clothing, and friends. Fall was the time to renew relationships with kids from out in the County we hadn’t seen all summer. There was also a new, younger class of kids joining us for the first time. They were often little brothers or sisters to those we already knew. Many came to town to experience ‘high school.’ The days of the one-room schools were over. A yellow school bus stole them away for discovery of many new friends and activities.
In a recent article I wrote that we didn’t have fall festivals or October fests in my days, but sometimes we had a late carnival. I recall they usually came when it was still warm, but jacket weather. It was early September or October when jackets went on to keep us warm in the cool evenings. Usually, the days were still warm, but snowball fights were in the future.
It was still a little early for the wonderful colors that accented the hills with fall leaves. If it had been a dry summer, some trees may have already turned brown, or even given up their leaves. During that season my mind would go to the beautiful college campuses I sometimes got to visit. I was at Morehead a number of times, and even got to attend one of their football games when I was a senior. Visits to others campuses were done at various times, but still, when I think of colleges, I think of fall. Don’t know why, but I do.
Most farmers consider fall harvest time, even if several crops are well finished by that time. The summer gardens are finished, and except for a few ‘cold crops,’ had been cleaned up. It was a time when pumpkins started to color up, hopefully in time to meet the demands for jack-o-lanterns, and those wonderful pies. My wife uses them for the best pumpkin bread around. It is so delightful when served hot, fresh out of the oven with melting butter.
Traditions are important in families, especially to younger children, adolescents, and youth. They are the basis of our early training and bonding. Today, even our kids are quick to remind us if we stray and don’t do things the way we ‘always do.’ We think they don’t care if we leave out a favorite dish at the Thanksgiving meal, but be assured, they do. The cooks in our family work hard making lists to ensure the avoidance of 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 are foundational to our makeup. As we age we see that life goes all too quickly. Sometimes what we enjoy is the planning and preparing for reoccurring activities. Even if dishes for that favorite meal don’t change, the cook suffers still in making it perfect. How sweet it is to exhale and relax in the idea that the key things in life do not change. Yes, there may be empty chairs about, but young lives fill the vacancies and the traditions become theirs, as well. We find security and comfort knowing that regardless of what happens the fall leaves will sparkle with colors, the apple crop will mature, and our favorite dishes will find its way to the oven.
Many of us remember fall apple harvests with a degree of fondness. After all, this activity led to the making of spicy apple pies, apple turnovers, apple cobbler, apple butter, apple sauce, and finally cider. Some families, or organizations have a tradition of breaking out the big, black, cast iron pot to make apple butter and Brunswick stew. Hunters may add a bit of squirrel, venison, quail, or rabbit to the mix, along with corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and other late ripening produce still at hand. Even the wood fire becomes a part of the celebration as we say our goodbyes to summer. The chill in the air tells us of the cooler days ahead. We are reminded of the snows ahead. It is near time to break out quilts, coats and jackets, long sleeves shirts, and maybe the wool long johns, and boots.
On the farm hay is being baled and stored, some in the barn loft, some in the fields in 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. For the youth, it will soon be time for those fun, romantic hayrides, fall camps, pumpkin picking, bonfires, and the raking of leaves. Hot cider and hot chocolate is served as the sun sets earlier and families find a spot to let dinner settle. It is a time to share memories, by spinning a yarn or two, or passing a family history to one of the attentive kids. This is how stories have been passed down to a new generation. It is comforting for the kids to know they are a part, already, of family history. For musical families the instruments are taken up and songs are sung. All is well in the world. Young ones wonder if there will be time for a game of ‘hide and seek’ as the sun has set.
With Halloween coming, we know the pumpkins are ready for market. Some are painted with cartoonish faces, but most are carved and hollowed out. A candle may be lit inside the creation on the evenings ahead. Plain pumpkins and gourds will be used for decorating porches and yards, along with bales of straw, and stuffed scarecrows, or witches on their broomsticks.
Wait! We pause to get that whiff in the breeze that tells us that pumpkin pies are cooling. Anticipating good times to come we know it is time to turn to work. We have to build a float and prepare for the upcoming parade. Costumes for the kids need to be made or purchased in time for ‘trick or treat,’ or the harvest party at church. My word, fall is a busy time, but it is a time for bonding and making life’s wonderful memories.
Nature sometimes forces us into traditional behaviors. After all, we are not always in control of when those fall colors change and finally drop and clutter the ground sufficiently to require us to rake them up. As a kid this meant it was time to run and jump into the great piles of leaves, spreading the heap about until it would have to be raked again. In those days we stood by the leaf pile with garden hose and rakes, to keep control of the fire. Once we set them ablaze, white smoke rose to create a blanket of haze in the atmosphere. Columns of smoke would chase those of us who were ‘tending’ the fire. I remember the old adage that ‘smoke follows beauty.’ Experience tells me that it followed some of us other folks, too. The smoke was always in my eyes and only mom thought I was beautiful. The constant rubbing of smoke-filled eyes would bring tears, blinding me once and then again to ensure I was always in the midst of the smoke. My only chance was to turn and run away. Sometimes, I would try to outflank the nasty cloud of smoke that was already hugging the ground. I’d sneak up with my rake, but the breeze followed me forcing me to retreat. It was years before I understood that smoke rising meant a high pressure system, while dropping smoke would indicate a barometric low, meaning that rain or snow may not be far off.
I remember people saying that ‘frost was on the pumpkin’ and that ‘collards were best after the first frost.’ Much of the produce became ripe in the fall and the hunting season would bring fresh game to the table. Fall was always a time of celebration and a time to count blessings. It is altogether right that Thanksgiving is only a few weeks ahead.
Whether Halloween, or a Harvest party, it is time to enjoy and take a short break from summer’s demands. There is still time to play, relax, yet prepare for the winter ahead. I remember laughing when dunking for apples, playing games, or running and hiding. Now is a time to take pictures, or movies, even if it’s over the objections of teens, or one of us grouchy older folk. In our last days we will turn to those pictures and remember. Holding the edge of the robe of ‘ghost of seasons past,’ we will see and hear the laughter once more. For the first time in a while maybe a tear will run down our face, or a smile will betray our feelings. With watery eyes we stare into the past and are bathed in the spirit of another time. As for me, it is tough being found out as a softy, deep inside. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. So look not longingly for the remnants of summer, but rather look forward to the holidays ahead. Just as apples are gathered, so let families come together and build more memories. When you get older you’ll find that bonding is critical to our well-being. Outside of our faith, family and friends are all we have. God bless.