My favorite time of the year is here! In a burst of brilliant blues, yolk yellows, perfectly bashing browns, and orangie oranges (sorry, ran out of descriptive adjectives), it’s fall, y’all, in its colorful glory.
For months here in the South, we’ve endured summer temperatures in the upper nineties with even higher humidity to get to this point in the year.
Want to experience Southern humidity? Easy! Take a hot shower, then try putting your clothes back on without drying off. Then you’ll be as excited as we are that fall brings cooler temperatures and much lower humidity.
It also brings pumpkins of all shapes and sizes and, of course, the weekend task of raking leaves. And raking leaves is something this writer has enjoyed since growing up on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo. Outside, sun, fresh air, and being one with nature. I enjoy everything about raking leaves, except one very, very small thing.
When I was seven years old, Dad gathered my three brothers and me in the leaf-covered backyard. He handed each of us a rake, told us to rake the yard and turned to walk away.
He suddenly stopped and turned around when Older Brother Richard stated, “This isn’t my rake; my name isn’t on it.” We all thought that was going to be the end of Richard, but we were wrong.
Without a word, Dad walked over, smiled, took the rake from him and went straight to the tool room. Moments later he returned, handed the rake back to Richard, and then went inside the house. For the next hour everyone in the backyard was laughing — everyone ‘cept Richard.
He now had his own rake, with his name in bright red paint on the handle. Every time I raked leaves, I think back on Richard’s personalized rake, and smile.
But making fun of Richard and his personalized rake wasn’t the only reason why I enjoyed fall tasks in our backyard every Saturday. There were two others.
First, Sweetgum Ball Wars. Our house sat on top of a hill, and our backyard sloped down and disappeared into the leading edge of a swamp. Between us and Neighbor Thomas’s house were huge oak and sweetgum trees lining the property line. The trees dumped tons of leaves covering our yard every week.
The very next Saturday, I complained to Dad that Thomas should be the one raking the leaves. After all, the trees were on their property, probably. Surprisingly, he seemed to agree – at least for a little while.
Without a word, Dad took my rake, and walked away, but not to our house. As he disappeared into Neighbor Thomas’s house, my brothers started to congratulate me. Up to now, none of us kids had ever won an argument with Dad. It looked like I had just done the impossible. But looks can be deceiving.
My victory was short-lived when Dad returned carrying the rake, but no Thomas in tow. Handing it to me, he smiled, “Just had to check. Thomas’s name wasn’t on this rake … but yours is.”
I looked at the rake, and he was right. Painted on the shaft in bright red was my name. As Dad turned and walked away again, laughter from my brothers followed him all the way back inside our house. As their laughter grew, so did my pile of sweetgum balls I was raking. Their laughter ended as soon as the Sweetgum Ball War started.
Sitting on our back deck, The Wife and I enjoy the shade from a massive sweetgum tree in our yard. And I spend every Saturday during the fall, raking the balls up into little piles and smile remembering pelting my brothers with those spiky little brown things.
The second reason I always enjoyed raking leaves is the huge pile we had at the bottom of the hill when we were finished. My brothers and I spent Saturday mornings raking leaves and our afternoons running down the hill to jump and dive into the giant piles. Even to this day, I still want to do the same with any huge pile of leaves I rake.
But as an adult, sometimes, I must act like an adult, so I’ve left all leaf jumping to our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline.
Unfortunately, they too have discovered the one very, small thing that enjoys playing in a huge pile of leaves more than kids — or I should say a bunch of small things … chiggers.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing a weekly column for The Citizen for more than two decades.]