There’s Something About Autumn

Today is the fourth full day of autumn, which officially started at 4:44 PM last Sunday. As a resident of South Florida for the past {{{GULP}}} 18 years (where does the time go?), I can say with total honesty that the only season I truly miss… is autumn. The azure blue skies, the smell of tannic acid in the air, the cool – but not cold- weather, and of course the magnificent display of color put on by mother nature; are the things that, since the discovery of our great country, have lifted our spirits for the harvest season and the approaching holidays. Yes, here in SoFlo we do still display pumpkins, gourds, and assorted “fall-like” paraphernalia but let’s be frank, it’s all kind of out of place whilst being presented at 85 humid, tropical, degrees.

I first realized my autumnal affinity back in 1963.  My family had moved away from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which at least on my local blocks, had a sad lacking of trees and shrubs; that is to say, there were none!  The book wasn’t named, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” for nothing! When you find one there, you take notice.

We made our way to a lovely street in Flushing that was literally canopied with huge oak and maple trees.  I wasn’t quite seven years old and had yet to witness the full majesty of the equinox.  You can imagine my childhood wonderment when for the first time, I found myself walking under an umbrella of colorful trees as I shuffled my tiny feet through shin-high beds of the fallen foliage.  Each day after school, I would collect a lion’s share of the vibrant leaves to present my mother with (what I believed to be) the most beautiful bouquet nature had to offer.  She would lovingly accept the bundle, replacing each day’s bounty in a hanging pot that dangled in our charming new kitchen.

After a family tragedy, which occurred only months after our relocation, we were forced to move back to Brooklyn.  Three more years would pass before my parents brought us to Bayside, Queens, where we started life anew.  To my utter delight our new domicile was only a few short blocks from the woods.  Actual woods… filled with trees, shrubs, grasses, lakes, and wild blackberry bushes!  I would spend more hours of my boyhood than could be counted, roaming the vast forest like acreage of Alley Pond Park, climbing trees, catching frogs, and bringing my little sisters on picnics, never tiring of what these great woods had to offer.  I enjoyed every moment playing and exploring among the trees but once autumn arrived, I could not get enough time to romp through the thickets.  I would find myself enveloped by the beauty of the third season, beholding the glory of fall as far as my eyes could see in every direction, including up!

After I became an adult, I found that one of the joys of childhood that I never outgrew was the rush of excitement and happiness that the fall season ushered in.  As a young man, I use to enjoy hiring a photographer to take annual family portraits as a gift for my parents.  Hands down, my favorite shot was one of the entire family playing among the autumn leaves outside our little home in Wantagh.  Although 26  years ago, I can recall setting the appointment for the photo like it was yesterday.  The photographer thought it was a splendid idea and looked forward to snapping pictures of the happy family, romping amongst and raking up the bright colored foliage.

A date was set for the peak of the season’s presentation and as luck would have it, it didn’t disappoint!  That Saturday morning was a storybook perfect day.

Back then, we had a landscaper that used to take care of the property, clearing, mowing, and trimming each Friday so that we could enjoy the beauty of our yards (front and back) during our weekend family time together.  I reviewed with my mother, EVERY DAY that week to make sure she moved the landscaper’s appointment to a date and time AFTER OUR PHOTO SHOOT, so that he wouldn’t clear away all the colorful leaves that were so important to our portrait.  “I know,” she assured me each day.  “I’m not a moron, I can make a simple call to reschedule an appointment,” she answered me quite frustrated by Friday morning’s request.  Still, I was relieved to see that our property was nicely covered in a thick bed of the fallen leaves when my dad and I arrived home from work that evening.  Tomorrow was the big day!

Saturday morning arrived and the house was abuzz with everyone trying to get ready before the photographer arrived at 10:00 AM.  Through all the confusion and excitement of things like wardrobe planning, eighties hair styling, and four women using every mirror in the house to check their makeup, none of us noticed that the landscaper had swung by the house as we were preparing.  He had cleared our land of every last fallen leaf.

“When did you tell him to come?” I demanded of my mother.  “Saturday,” she nonchalantly, yet innocently replied in that special way that only Trudy could.  “I never thought he’d come first thing in the morning!”

There was no time to bicker.  What were we going to do?  I had bought new rakes and bushel baskets to be used as props for the shoot.  With no leaves in sight, they would be awfully silly to hold during our “casual and very candid” yet carefully planned out poses!  Without the leaves, it would merely be an outdoor photo.  With only minutes to spare before the photographer arrived, I handed each one of my sisters, my niece, my dad, and myself, large plastic trash bags with instructions to gather up all of the leaves we could get from the homes up and down Wheelbarrow Lane.  Our neighbors were only too happy to comply!  I finished scattering the last bag of leaves in what I felt was an uncontrived, natural pattern, filling our front yard with the joy of autumn just as the photographer pulled up to our house.

The selected Photo which hung over our fireplace

The selected Photo which hung over our fireplace

This portrait is not only a favorite among my family, but it has also received the most praise from friends and even strangers that see it to this day.  There is just something so special about seeing a family frolicking in the foliage.

Happy Autumn to you!

This one was a close second choice

This one was a close second choice

This one hung in my sister Maureen's home.
This one hung in my sister Maureen’s home.

Until next time,

Don

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