First leaf

Rick Ryckeley

Fall is the best time of the year. Not because the kids have all gone back to school or the days are getting a little shorter or even that we have cooler temperatures and much lower humidity.

It’s because there’re an endless supply of leaves needing to be raked. And I just love raking leaves. Been that way since growing up a long, long time ago on an old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

The April Twin Brother Mark and I turned 6 years old, we moved into the house our dad had built with his own two hands. That fall Dad had my three brothers and me raking leaves up in the backyard. With such a large yard, the raking was nonstop all the way to Christmas.

And so was the complaining. Everyone complained except me, of course. I loved raking leaves, heaping a pile higher and higher at the bottom of the hill in the backyard and looking back at the clean green leafless lawn. If asked, Older Brother Richard and Big Brother James would say I was crazy to like raking so much. But if you asked Mark, he’d tell you there was a motive behind my madness — a leaf-jumping motive.

Dad paid us each a dollar to rake the yard, but I would’ve raked the yard for free. When the raking was done, the fun began. If we started early in the morning, by lunchtime we would have a huge pile at the bottom of the hill. Mom’s lunches were always good, but our favorite was when she made fried baloney sandwiches on leaf-raking Saturdays.

Unlike Dad, she never cut baloney as it started to puff up frying in a cast iron skillet. When done, the baloney looked like a little cap. But my love of baloney cap sandwiches with yellow mustard is a story for another time. This story is about the first leaf.

Our house at 110 Flamingo Street sat atop a hill with a backyard covered in fescue grass that sloped down and bellied out before disappearing into the leading edge of a swamp. Standing on the near shore was a giant oak tree, and halfway up in it was our tree house.

We piled all the leaves around the base of the tree. When we finished, the pile was 10 feet wide and taller than any of us: perfect for leaf jumping. Jumping into a pile of leaves would be what any kids would do, and we did. Normally you can’t get hurt. But growing up, my brothers and me sometimes did things that were anything but normal.

An hour after lunch we had all run and jumped ourselves silly. Piling leaves up for one more jump, I had what I thought was a good idea. “Hey, why don’t we jump out of the tree house? It’s not that far. It’ll be safe and no one’s gonna get hurt.”

And that’s how Older Brother Richard broke his ankle. Guess you really can get hurt jumping out of a tree house and landing into a huge pile of leaves. Especially when someone “accidentally” pushes you. Fifty years later I still feel bad about that.

Last weekend The Wife and I took our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, to Chattanooga, Tenn. Rock City was the first stop. Smiling, we watched as they maneuvered tight passageways of Fat Man Squeeze, Needle’s Eye and bravely inched across the swinging bridge.

Once on the other side, The Wife spotted a large leaf landing on a nearby rock, remarking how spectacular the many colors were. She continued down the pathway chasing after the girls who were giggling trying to catch falling leaves before disappearing around walls of rocks.

Watching the scene unfold made me smile and remember a time my brothers and me caught leaves in our backyard. Doubling back, I picked up that first leaf of fall and placed it between pages of a book we had just bought. Days later two tired but happy girls, full of mountain memories, returned back home to our sleepy little zombie-filled town. Unpacking our bag, The Wife found the book. She opened it. “Why did you bring a leaf back?” She asked.

“Didn’t bring back a leaf.” I smiled. “I brought back a childhood memory.”

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog:]