The last few days have been harbingers of the coming fall, more like September than August. The sun has barely shone, but when it did, it bounced off the leaves obliquely, like autumn sunlight tends to do. It illuminated the already changing leaves, many losing their green and beginning to tend toward yellow. The air has been cool and damp, and the rain sometimes has seemed as though it would never stop. The sky, a leaden gray with an occasional streak of blue, offering an ominous backdrop, portending the nearing end of summer.
When I was young, summer was my favorite season. I could play every day and didn’t have to go home just because it was getting dark. I went to sleep later and slept longer. On weekends we did the myriad of chores that had eluded us all week, such as mowing, gardening, and cutting wood for the eventual winter. After a day of work, we often went to the drive-in on a Saturday night, or popped up a big bowl of popcorn and played board games or euchre. Saturday suppers were casual, usually hamburgers and soup, or something made on the grill. Sunday was almost always chicken with all the trimmings, either at our house, or the house of a relative or family friend. Sundays were social days, and even church then was a social event, not some fundamentalist pipe dream.
I played baseball all summer long, either in one or more leagues of some description, or pick up games and practices with a handful of friends. Many days were spent flyfishing in a nearby stream or pond. Even more were spent sitting in the shade of a willow tree reading Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, or some other novel of adventure or derring do. A shade tree and a good book was our version of air conditioning when the house was too hot to hold us. Summer lazed along when you were young, and fall always seemed far away until one day you woke up and it was there.
Winter back then was my second favorite season. I loved snow. We could go sledding or tobogganing, build snow forts, and have snowball fights. If we were really lucky, there’d be a snow day, the consummate gift. Christmas, every kid’s favorite day, was in the winter.
When the heat was struggling to warm the house, I loved the spots where you could sit, hovering over the heat register, thawing out frozen fingers and toes. On freezing mornings, I’d write my name or draw pictures in the frost on the windows. Winter was the cozy season with warm blankets on the bed under which you could build up enough body heat to stay toasty until morning roused you from the warmth.
Even though it meant back to school, fall was magnificent. All about us was a canopy of yellow leaves with a dappled sun. The woods were alive with the flame of the yellow, orange, and red leaves that too soon would be gone.
Saturdays were for raking and burning leaves. My father, and every father, stood, rake in hand, as the leaves burned in huge piles. With the rake he kept moving the leaves into the fires. Small smoke signals rose into the air. The dry leaves curled then burned, and we’d watch. I still remember that smell. It stayed on my jacket and in my hair a long time. Sometimes even now, I can still smell it, even when there are no leaves to burn. The fall had Halloween, the second best day for kids. Fall was the crisp season when the air got colder and the days shorter. We put away the shorts and tee shirts of summer and became reacquainted with the wool sweaters and corduroy trousers we had nearly forgotten since early spring.
The best part of spring was shedding snow boots, mittens and heavy winter jackets. Windows were opened and breezes blew away the stale air. The grass grew. Flowers poked through the dirt. The world woke, and every day it got prettier. Spring was life reaffirming itself.
Spring, the harbinger of summer, came in fits and starts, however. One day warm and mild, the next, bitter, breezy, spitting snow, ice crystals, or cold rain drops. But it smoothed out, became summer, and was soon forgotten.
Fall, now my favorite of all the seasons, is almost upon us, as said earlier. While the passing of summer has come too quickly, and creates a certain amount of ennui and a sense of lost opportunities, the promise of autumn brings all the colors, smells, and sounds that have come to define my childhood memories. It is those sights and sounds that now seem most memorable, and it is their reappearance that returns me to that place and time where my best memories still reside.