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October 3, 2015

leaves II

Growing up in Minnesota, my father was the boss of the leaf raking crew. Dad LOVED any kind of outdoor work: mowing, digging holes, cutting logs with a cross-cut saw ( he actually preferred working up a sweat with an old friend to using a chainsaw!) – and leaf raking. One bright October morning, he would waltz into the kitchen and announce,
“OK, kids…today is leaf raking day!!” He always seemed to be stunned when we didn’t react with enthusiasm. There would be this hurt look on his face – and it was clear that he didn’t understand why we didn’t feel exactly the way he did.

Other fathers were different. They jollied their kids along or made a game of it or cracked jokes. Dad just stood there – perplexed – and then annoyed that we were behaving so badly. Finally we would be ushered out the door and told to pick up a rake. “We have a lot of work to do!”

He was right. We had almost two acres of lawn and at least 10 maple and oak trees; that’s a LOT of leaves. Under Dad’s tutelage, we would start out at a brisk pace. But – as soon as he was out of earshot – we started to slack off. We limped along until noon – and a welcome break for lunch. The job was usually between 30 – 50% done. We s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d lunch out as long as we could – but finally, the jig was up and we were once more ushered out to the lawn. But by 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we were done – with three huge mounds of leaves piled up – and ready…one for each of us: myself and my two younger brothers. There was a certain sense of decorum about what came next.

Dad would go and get a lawn chair and his pipe. He would place the lawn chair somewhere between the three piles. Then, he would light his pipe…and when he began to release puffs of smoke in a rythmic pattern, he would stop – with a big smile on his face – and turn to us. “OK, kids…you can jump now…”

Rakes fell to the ground as we jumped up and down, hollering as loud as we could. Then we would move away from the piles and each assume a racing position. “GO!” I will never forget the sense of joy and abandon as we raced toward those piles, leaping high into the air, and falling into the pile. I can still feel and smell the leaves against my face; hear them crackle around me as I fell.

“I jumped higher than you did!”
“No, you didn’t!!”

But the arguments were playful as we thrashed around in our piles, picking up handfuls of leaves and tossing them into the air. Dad would sit in his chair, puffing on his pipe,  a huge grin on his face. We did it again and again…until we wore ourselves out.

THAT – to me – is Autumn.

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