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The Way We Were INDEX 1  2  3
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Autumn Leaves

In northeastern USA, fall comes first in the highest reaches of New England, then creeps on frosty feet down the mountains and high hills, through the Adirondacks, the Poconos and Great Smoky Mountains, painting them crimson and gold.   It creeps into the valleys as it announces the winter to come, putting on a glorious show until the leaves dry up and fall off.

Most beautiful of all are the sugar maples, whose broad leaves display a rainbow of reds and gold.  My mid-childhood was spent in Wyoming, New York, in a valley just north of  the Poconos, where the town still has gas lights and the streets are lined with huge, ancient sugar maples.   We would look for the most gorgeous and perfect maple leaf to take to school, and the teacher would pin them up on the bulletin board.

One thing was both good and bad - raking the leaves.   If there were children in the house, they were usually the ones assigned this task.   It wasn't just work.   First we raked them into "walls", making a huge house on the front lawn.   Out would come the dolls, doll dishes, old blanket and play kitchen appliances to furnish our home, and we'd play house.   To tell the truth, although I wanted to play with my friends, I was not a real fan of playing house, and usually would try to play the husband or the dog if the others would go along with it.  Sometimes I persuaded them to play hospital instead, but rarely.   The disadvantage was that each evening we'd have to haul in all the toys, and by the next afternoon, the wind, new leaf fall and stray dogs had usually blurred the lines so we had to re-rake.  

When we tired of this, there were two other games we played, and I've completely forgotten the rules or the point.   One, we raked the leaves into a huge circle, the walls like a cut pie.   The other we'd rake them into irregularly placed squares; I think this must have been some variation of hopscotch.   But I'll bet prolific author Cynthia MacGregor can come up with the rules!   (Note:  Cynthia says not.  I'm pretty sure the squares were hopscotch, and the pie-cut circle some type of tag.  Maybe we invented it.  Anyone remember something like this?  Leave your comments below.)

Next, when we tired of our games or the lawn got too messy for our parents' liking, we raked them all into a huge pile, and took turns running and jumping into the pile.  The boys took part in this, too, scattering the leaves with abandon.   

Some households used part of the leaves to bed down rose bushes, spring bulbs and rhizomes, and other flowering plants, to protect them from the worst of the cold, and believe me, the winters were long and snowy there!    The rest were raked to a bare spot far from dry shrubs or buildings, or sometimes raked to the curb, and burned under an adults' supervision.  Rarely an autumn passed but the fire department had to come out at least once and put out a bonfire that threatened to spread.

I remember afterwards, kicking through the ashes, sometimes finding a scorched doll dish or other toy that had gotten left behind, and pensively realizing that another summer had gone away forever.

 

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