Now that fall has officially arrived, we are in my favorite season of the year.
Maybe it’s because where I grew up, the fall colors were always spectacular; September meant the return to school and a whole year of possibilities, the late September coming of the fall season meant the leaves changing color and the weather cooling off from our (what seemed to me then) hot upstate New York Augusts.
It’s something to chuckle over now, but the ‘hot’ Augusts of my childhood pale in comparison to the hot Augusts of the Central Valley. However, 85 to 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity when you are a kid is unbearable, unless you have A/C or a creek to jump in from time to time. Thankfully, we had both.
But I digress; August is gone, September has just ended and October heralds the real start of fall, as even here we start to see a bit of color and we don’t have to turn on the air in the house or the car anymore. (We hope.)
I was walking the other day and the leaves were actually crunching under my feet and it was one of those sounds that took me back in time; back to the smell of New York autumn, to the feel of raking up a yard full of leaves to jump in. My brother and I would usually spend a few Saturdays or afternoons after school earning some money by raking lawns in the neighborhood. Which, in our town, meant we walked a half-mile or so to get to the houses where the older folks lived and would gladly pay us a few dollars for the raking and bagging. My dad for many years had an agreement with the town whereby the leaves that Public Works crews picked up on the designated ‘leaf pick up’ days were all brought to our house. An organic gardener, my dad had a huge ‘leaf bin’ that they were dumped in and we had a grinder that all the leaves would be fed into, to come out as mulch for spreading on the garden. Many a weekend we spent grinding leaves and spreading them out, helping nourish the earth for the next year’s garden planting.
A recent phone conversation with my mom revealed that she was finally finished with ‘getting the crops in’ – meaning the last of the sweet corn had been packaged, the green beans canned and some fruit pies and preserves made as well. She laughed as she told me every time she had one fruit or vegetable done, my dad would show up from the garden with another one that had come in. They were very busy, but one of the good memories from my childhood is having that ‘fresh from the garden’ taste of vegetables and fruits all winter long. And where we lived in New York, winter was LONG. To be totally honest, when I was a kid, there were only a few vegetables I really liked – corn and green beans were among them, but please don’t give me peas – but I have expanded my palate over the years and am now much more adventurous.
We also had a root cellar that my dad built into the side hill on our property, so it stayed at a constant temperature all the time. Some produce was also stored in there and stayed good through the winter. My brother and I used to love to go hide out in the root cellar when those hot August days hit. The root cellar hovered around 67 degrees, so that was just about perfect. It also was kind of unique that, mid-January, we could shovel our way to the root cellar and come back with potatoes and carrots that grew in the garden six months previously and were still fresh.
When my daughter and I went back for a visit this summer, we helped with some of those earliest crops; in fact, we got to shell several buckets of peas. Just like he did with my mom, as soon as Ally and I got done with shelling a bucketful, there was my dad, coming in from the garden with another one.
Oh well, there was good conversation and a chance to make good memories while shelling them and stealing a few fresh-from-the-pod peas. (Which I can now eat without gagging.)
Typically, the final three months of the year go by in a blur because once October hits you are already into Halloween and making plans for Thanksgiving and getting the Christmas shopping lists in order. It’s like life on fast forward. I know it’s about to get crazy, but I will remember to stop and breathe deeply, to take in the scent of fall and let the memories it evokes wash over me.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times, The Oakdale Leader and The Riverbank News. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.