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More Stories - The Way We Were

I Rose In Rainy Autumn
By Walter Mills of
Recipe du Jour

The trees on the hillside are on fire in the rain. It is the slow fire of oxidation that burns all growing things. We, too, burn inside with a slow fire, some people more quickly than others. The leaves sudden turning reminds us of the fire inside.

Two Saturdays ago my family made the annual fall pilgrimage to Aaronsburg, ten miles up the road, for the Fall Festival, the town's yearly October event. It was raining steadily, which was not good news for the merchandise vendors or the yard sales. We were hungry when we got there, and wasted little time making our way to the park for the food. We stood in the rain in fast moving lines for the ham and bean soup cooking over wood fires in large kettles then settled at damp tables in the open with our hoods up on our raincoats, and wolfed down sausage sandwiches and french fries doused with vinegar while the hot soup warmed us from the inside out.

A country band was playing to a crowd under a shelter, but we didn't stay to listen, and instead walked up a block and watched the apple cider squeezing taking place under an oak tree. The crates of apples stacked behind the hand-turned cider press were from Doug MacNeal's orchard out by Livonia, which we had visited in the spring for the maple sugar harvest. The cider came out sweet, with a flavor more intense than any I've tasted from a store.

Up the walkway through the trees Bill and Dot Stover were giving free tours of their nearly two hundred year old log cabin. I stayed outside and talked to Bill, tall and lanky, dressed in homespun and high, three-cornered hat. I had made the tour before and sat on the bench, watching the cider pressing, while my family learned about the early settler life.

The rain turned to mist in the afternoon and we walked through the town, looking in garages and old barns for bargains. We dragged the kids past the "free dogs" sign beside a kennel where two beagle hounds played, and heard for the rest of the afternoon how we needed another dog. On the main thoroughfare we admired the old, well-maintained houses with lace-curtained windows and perfect flowerbeds.

Beneath one canvas awning an older gentleman was selling his hand- made wooden toys. I purchased a blue wooden airplane for my two-year-old daughter who has been obsessed with airplanes ever since we took her grandmother to the airport and she disappeared onto the plane. She seems convinced that each time she hears a plane her grandmother is flying overhead. The toymaker soft-heartedly gave my older daughter, who was staring wistfully at his toys, a carved wooden teddy bear. He told me he liked the toys so much he almost hated to part with them, but I don't think he minded this one.

That was two weeks ago and the trees are deeper into their turning, the color bursting out like tongues of fire on the hillside. I take the back roads to work and in a corridor of trees between Oak Hall and Lemont I am ambushed by torches of flaming leaves, the kind that Van Gogh saw in his last wild paintings, where everything is burning inside with a holy fire.

Now is the time of the ripe, golden pumpkins pulled from the back gardens and sold in roadside stands, and of Halloween cutouts in windows and cornstalk decorations on porches. I have never lived in a place that takes its holiday decorating so seriously. I imagine that a decade or so ago a traveling salesman came through the county with a line of holiday flags, cutout witches and cardboard pumpkins and made a killing off the local citizenry.

In this chill and rainy fall I think of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas' "Poem in October," especially of the lines "And I rose in rainy autumn and walked abroad in a shower of all my days." He burned too quickly inside and died at age 39.

These are glory days for poets and painters, full of color and meaning. And for the little man who travels in cardboard pumpkins, this is a golden time.

(The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2004 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide.  To contact Walt, see  .)

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