Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fall. When I was a child, you could tell it was fall, because you could smell the burning leaves and see the wisps of smoke as they made their way up into the sky. I remember raking leaves and picking up pecans. I don’t know that I was any help with either task. I’m sure that I ate a good many pecans, and I‘m also sure that I jumped in many a pile of leaves, causing leaf havoc. But after a few jumps and the subsequent re-raking, a jumping ban was put into place. Then my father would light the pile, and the smoke would drift into the sky, along with that instantly recognizable smell of burning leaves that still defines "fall" to me, even today.

Fall meant back to school clothes. School dresses, made of durable (read scratchy) material, sometimes plain, sometimes a fancier plaid, that tied in the back were the staple of every little girl’s wardrobe. Back then, girls didn’t wear pants to school. Pants were reserved for "play clothes", to be worn afternoons after school and on the weekends. And the pants that we DID wear either had an elastic waistband or zipped on the side, not down the front like a boy’s pants.
I suppose the same people that made the rule of buttoning boys shirts and girls shirts on opposite sides made the rule about the zippers. I'm not sure exactly why these clothing rules were made, but I had to play by them, like it or not.

Back to school supplies. Do you remember the smell of new crayons? What size box did you get? Eight? Sixteen? Twenty-four? Forty eight? Sixty four? Or were you one of the most fortunate to own a box of 128 beautiful, sharp pointed crayons in every color imaginable, and which came in a box that even had a crayon sharpener in it? The only smell better than new crayons is the smell of a new can of play doh. Both are truly intoxicating. I teach, and get to smell both quite a bit, but they still make me remember my elementary years and those first days of school each year. Put them in your little book bag (no backpacks then-we carried a book bag with a little handle, like a little briefcase, but in plaids and bright school colors) with your new pencils and scissors, and you were set for school.

Back then, when I grew up, we burned our trash out in the back yard in a large metal drum. Every evening we would take our day’s trash, in a large brown grocery bag, out to the trash can. Put the paper bag in the can, light the edge, watch it burn. It was a special treat to be allowed to light the bag. You had to have been very good to get that honor. The fire lit up the area above the barrel. If you watched the trash bag burn for a few minutes, large pieces of ash, which were pieces of the brown paper bag, would soar into the sky, propelled by the heated air from the fire, then slowly drift back to earth after they escaped from the force of the heated air. I was fascinated by the trash barrel and the huge pieces of bag, reduced to ash. It was as though they danced through the air, til no longer in the spotlight, they were resigned to their return to earth.

Fall also meant Thanksgiving. Even though I am a little heavier than I would like to be at this stage of my life, I was a terribly skinny child. I’m not sure why. My mother fried almost everything that we ate and we had rice and gravy at every meal (I grew up in south Louisiana, remember?). But I was just not that interested in food. And we didn’t have a big family, so Thanksgiving was not ever a holiday that even I cared about. Usually Thanksgiving was a meal for the three of us, not much different from any other meal, except for the turkey and cornbread dressing. Every now and then, relatives would come to our house for Thanksgiving or we would go to someone else’s house. But my mother and father were the babies of their families, and they did not have me until they were both in their forties. So there wasn’t an abundance of children in our extended family. My closest cousin was at least ten years older than me. Most were twenty to thirty years older. So the prospect of Thanksgiving dinner did not even contain the excitement of having someone different to play with. It was usually just me, trying to not be noticed too much, or someone would insist that I eat lima beans, which I detested. I sat in front of a plate of lima beans for hours on more occassions that I would like to remember.("You can't leave the table until you have eaten all the food on your plate-there are children starving in Korea who would love to have those lima beans.") When people did come to our house for Thanksgiving, I remember Momma getting out dishes that I NEVER got to see. Different plates, little cut glass dishes (for pickles and olives) and pretty drinking glasses. I wondered why we didn't use those things all of the time. Now I know why.

One more thing defines fall to me. Here in the south, there is an excitement that comes with fall. For ten weeks every fall, people's minds were on one Playing football at recess, playing football in front and back yards all over town, and yes, HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL. Football season is the highlight of most small town southern schools. Ten weeks of excitement and hoping. Hoping that the season will extend beyond those ten weeks for your high school this year, all the way to the playoffs. Everyone was involved in some way or another at my school. I come from a small south Louisiana town. Population approximately 5,000. Not far south, like New Orleans, south like Ville Platte. Of course you grow up going to the games, but when you hit high school, it ceases to be simply a diversion on fall Friday evenings and becomes an integral part of your life. During football season, everything revolved around the football game to be played that Friday. Each grade (Freshman-Senior) would make huge signs to hang all over the school with catchy slogans, such as "Whip the Wildcats" or "Butcher the Bears". We would work on these every afternoon after school, starting on Monday, then hang them on Thursday. They were judged by someone (I never knew who judged them) and during the Pep Rally (held every Friday afternoon), the class with the best signs would win the "Spirit Stick", which was an exciting event. We were just crazy about football. Everyone (I would wager 85-90%) of the high school student body was involved in one way or another in the football machine. Personally, I was in the band. My best friend at the time was in the Pep Squad. And of course, there were the cheerleaders, and finally, the actual football players themselves. Parents were there working in concession stands or in the bleachers, watching the games. I do not remember missing a single game during the entire time I was in high school. We even went to the rainy games, with our rain gear on. I played piccolo, so I could not take my instrument out in the rain (the pads would get wet and be ruined), but the brass and percussion went on playing, and we were there to support them and the team. So ingrained was high school football, that to this day, on Saturday mornings, I read the prep scores in the newspaper aloud to my beautiful wife. Not just my home town, but any town that we might have played during my years in high school. I get great joy out of seeing a team that consistently beat us being trounced by anyone else (of course if the team that does the trouncing is my high school, that makes it even better).

I can't say that fall is my favorite season, but I do have some fond memories of fall activities, fall smells and tastes and sounds. Most of the things that I assosciate fondly with fall do not even exist for me any more. We are not allowed to burn leaves, and raking leaves into a garbage bag just doesn't have the same feel. My fall "back to school" clothing excitement doesn't really exist either. One thing is for certain, you would never catch me in a little plaid "school dress" and knee socks ever again. (Note to wife: if we ever decide to play "school girl and gym teacher", you have to be the school girl.) No more burning trash in a metal drum. And since I teach in an elementary school, and I am 150 miles away from my home town, no more excitement over football games. But, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I don't need a special day, because I am thankful every day. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, for our son, for our jobs and home and all of our "cast of thousands". I am thankful that we make enough money to be able to feed the "cast of thousands". I am thankful for so many things that I can't even begin to list all of them. I am even thankful for the opportunity to write these posts, to be able to share my thoughts and memories, and especially thankful for all of you who read it and let me know that it made you laugh or made you think or made you remember something important to you. Thank you!


At 7:45 AM, Blogger Carmen said...

Fall is also my favorite season, and it does bring back so many memories of childhood. The "leaf ban" for sure! We had a compost pile for leaves, but we could not burn garbage when I was little.

I was a lucky one with the big box of crayons with a charpener, however I remember vivedly the last time I received that box. It got run over in my garage by my friend Shawn who was riding my new bike in circles. He crushed the box! I cried & was told I didn't know how to take care of things.

I have recently noticed that Hallmark had replicated a few of my lunchboxes into Christmas ornaments. If that didn't make me feel old! But I do remember those book bags! Kids now have mini luggage on wheels!

Football was not as crazy here, but it was still popular. I performed at halftime, but was not in the band itself. Every year when we have that first night snowfall I think of Wed. night band practice & how distracted we all got about snowflakes -we live in Ohio for God's sake! It was nothing new to us! And the band director would get so mad at us & have to get everyone's attention & start over again.

Thanksgiving for me was very similar. I am an only child, as is my mom. My dad is 15 years younger than his siblings so I had much older cousins! It was a very small dinner. But when my mom brought out the "good stuff" it meant I could drink my milk out of the cut crystal wine glasses! That was so decadent to me for some strange reason. These glasses weighed a ton & were so thick -I thought they were "fancy".

I very much miss those Thanksgivings. My only living grandparent is one grandma & my mom left my dad (& I) 3 years ago to do whatever she's doing. That leaves my father, but he's a fireman & choses to work on the holiday so other younger guys with small children can be home like he was when I was a child. And lets not even mention the fact that I cannot cook. I really, really miss those days.

Thank you for such a nostalgic post, it kinda made me cry a little! Sorry if I babbled, but it just brought back a lot of memories! I'm going to go learn to cook now...

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Rose of Sharon said...

I haven't read your post yet, but I wanted to make sure that you knew that you were tagged by GoGo to do a meme.....we're still waiting for your list! You can see my meme on my blog here or go to GoGo's page for her;s.

Sorry you and yours couldn't come over for lunch today. Hopefully we'll see you soon and we hope she feels better very soon. And BTW, did you post this on Sunday or Thursday? It says Thursday, but I've been checking your blog, but didn't see anything until today.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Rose of Sharon said...

As usual, a masterpiece.

So, is the pickles and olives thing at Thanksgiving a southern thing? Of course since I'm an American transplant anyway, I am not all too familiar with Thanksgiving anyway. We celebrate it because it was the American thing to do. And we're like you, small family and since we're the ONLY family here, it was just us and not all that special either. Of course that is all different now that I have my own family. Anyway, back to the olives....Jen's mom does the olives and pickles thing too which incidentally, I love.

As for football....I'm not into football and I never did the high school football thing either. Went to Oakland High school in CA and it was situated in a bad part of town and there were lots of driveby shootings, so we never went to the football games because the football field was right by the road.

Carmen, what did you play in band? What about you, Two dykes? Jen plays the trumpet and is VERY good and was in a band. Me, I'm a band geek or band groupie.

And Carmen, I'm sure we could all have a great Thanksgiving together....I cook and I know Two dyke's wife cooks too. So you're covered! Check out Rachel Ray's books....I've never read them, but her shows make cooking look very easy. Let me know how the books are if you get them!

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Carmen said...

Her shows sure so make everything look easy! I'll look into it. Maybe I'll actually give it a whirl!
I was in the flag corps, I didn't play an instument. But we had to practice with the band and I got to go to ...BAND CAMP!!!

At 3:23 AM, Anonymous cozmic said...

Wow, this post was so, so, excellent is the only word that pops out of this wide open mouth. To us in England the word is Autumn, but Fall seems to describe it so much better. Thanksgiving sounds as though it was great, like Christmas in England but without the presents.My sister who is a recent 'transplant' tells me she celebrates Thanksgiving with her american husband. He is from Colorado. His parents had a wooden house up in the mountains, and I believe they used to celebrate it there. So to all of you I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, (isn't it soon?)
Thanks for a wonderful posting, cozmic

At 5:18 PM, Blogger GoGo said...

I love your thankful list. It reminds me to do the same. Though we should be grateful all year long, it is nice to have a time to formalize the mindfulness of it all.



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