False Fall

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Let the countdown begin! For the last week, the crisp cool air of fall in Georgia finally arrived, blowing through our open windows each morning. The next few months are a reward for those of us who have endured the oppressive heat, high humidity, and flying bugs of summer in the South.

The signs of changing seasons are all around us, from bright colored leaves blowing across lawns to pumpkins and Halloween costumes on display in stores around our fair town. The Wife calls this time of the year False Fall.

“Don’t be fooled. There’s always another week or so of really hot weather before it’s actually fall.” She’s right. This Thursday the heat and humidity will descend upon us, making outside activities unpleasant once again.

There are many signs of the coming season, but there’s only one true sign that fall has arrived, and I haven’t seen it yet. It’s the same sign we all saw back on that old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.

For those seven wonderful years, my three brothers, The Sister, and I spent growing up on Flamingo, fall was the best time of the year. It started the trifecta of holiday seasons: the 45-day countdown to Halloween, the 70 days until Thanksgiving, and only 100 days until Christmas!

But back then we didn’t need to look at a calendar to know fall was right around the corner; there were signs all around us.

First, when we went into any store, the wonderful smell of cinnamon-scented candles filled the air as we ran through pumpkins galore and argued over which pf the Halloween costumes on display, we wanted. But as wonderful as these memories were, none of them was the one true sign that summer was over, and fall had finally arrived.

Second, our dad would have us kids start picking up fallen pinecones, which we saved until we had buckets full of them. Only with full buckets could we hold The Great Pinecone Wars that started around Thanksgiving and continued all the way to spring.

We’d also rake pine straw in our front yard and leaves in the back. Raking usually started around the first of September and continued until the last leaves had fallen sometime in February.

At first, raking wasn’t much fun because the piles weren’t yet big enough for jumping into, but we knew it would only be a few weeks before that game could begin. Still, half-filled buckets of pinecones and small piles of leaves weren’t the one true sign that fall had officially arrived.

Third, a day trip the North Georgia mountains. Around the first or second week of September, we’d get loaded up in the avocado green station wagon with the faux wood panels and head to the North Georgia mountains for apple picking and leaf watching.

This trip made no sense to us kids. Why drive two hours to get apples and look at leaves when we had apples in the grocery store and leaves in our back yard? One year I asked our dad.

After taking a deep breath, his response was measured, “Because your mom wants to go, that’s why.” Still, Mom’s apple picking and leaf watching trip to the mountains wasn’t the official sign fall had arrived.

So, what was the one and only true sign that fall had arrived back on Flamingo? When we saw Bubba Hanks walking around wearing a long-sleeved red and black checkered flannel shirt under his button-up coveralls, we knew for sure.

And even though it’s gonna hit ninety-four degrees one day this week, with all the leaves starting to fall, pumpkins in every store, the smell of cinnamon candles permeating our house, and the trip to the North Georgia mountains for apples and leaf watching now complete, I know fall must be right around the corner.

Just have to see someone walking around in a long-sleeved flannel shirt to be sure.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]