Autumn is a rich, vivid word carrying descriptive tones with its utterance; it is much more appropriate for this season than the simple word, fall. As I write this I am seated on the deck behind my house enjoying the final daylight of a day that has alternated between completely cloudy and a bright blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Temperatures have been in the 80’s and there has been a nice breeze all day. We don’t have a real fall where I live and, in my opinion, we really have no seasons. In spite of the pumpkins on the porch and the mantle decorated with oranges, yellows, and hints of reds around my ceramic pumpkins I still have to remind myself that it is autumn. The angle of the sun has changed, days are shorter, and summer is over. It is autumn.
Autumn always brings up memories of the first years that I recognized the changing of the seasons and their continuity. During the years I attended first, second, and third grade we lived in Alexandria, Louisiana. It was still summer-time hot when school started. Windows were opened high and interior transom windows opened wide to catch any cross-ventilation possible inside the school. We learned under the drone of the big, round fans on tall stands. I remember being very hot after school while waiting for the school bus and the heat of riding home on that bus. But within a few weeks the heat lessened. In the mornings, after waiting for school to start and playing on the playground I would have dew covered shoes and wet socks. My mother would send me off with a light cotton sweater over my summer dress, but the day would warm up and the sweater would come off. By second grade I began to see the continuity in the change and by third grade I anticipated it.
October nights were cool and crisp in Louisiana. Each year the school carnival offered a chance to come to the school and just have fun, nothing serious there that night. By third grade I was turned loose in our neighborhood to Trick-or-Treat on Halloween night with my friends while Daddy stayed home to man the front porch with a large bowl of candy. It was the 1960’s and people weren’t mean and ugly; everyone watched out for everyone else and there wasn’t a hint of danger unless someone forgot and darted in front of a car. Even now on a cool night, memories of school hallways decorated for Halloween and roaming the neighborhoods with a full pumpkin of candy trigger sweet memories.
The colors of the season during those years remain very vivid in my mind. The years of second and third grade we made a trip to my grandparents’ between the start of school and Thanksgiving, most likely for the purpose of attending an Ole Miss football game. One of those years the colors were extremely brilliant, as some years are, and the dazzling yellows of the trees in the pasture were almost blinding in the late afternoon sun.
And, what about that football game bringing up memories? The year of third grade I was allowed to go to the game. One of my Daddy’s parents took us to the game, but we had to walk home as traffic was (and still is) impassable after the game. Daddy wore a suit, coat and tie. Mama wore a suit and heels. Likewise, I was in my Sunday best. I knew a little about the game as Daddy would watch bits and pieces of Saturday afternoon games at home and had explained a few basics. Mama knew nothing and always had to look at Daddy to see when she was supposed to stand up! I remember vaguely seeing Coach Vaught on the field and Colonel Reb emblems were everywhere. Today, fall is synonymous with football for me in many ways.
I also remember walking through the woods outside Oxford on family property one of those fall visits and watching my artistic grandmother gathering dried branches and other fading things from the woods to make an arrangement that would adorn her living room. I can still see her fashioning that arrangement in her hands as we walked along that day. Selecting something here and picking up something else in the next step or two, choosing and selecting what she wanted. My mother did not do things like that and it was my first exposure to creativity and welcoming the season.
The large tree in front of our house dropped pecans in the days of autumn. After school each day I would fill large brown grocery bags with the small pecans. Sometimes my friends in the neighborhood would join me and it was a real treasure hunt to find them nestled in the grass. Entertainment, 1960’s style! When the dropping of the pecans slowed down Daddy would load the bags in the car and take them to the local pecan warehouse and sell them. He was the chief pecan sheller/picker and he did not like to mess with the small pecans, so he sold them. He preferred the nice, thin shelled pecans from trees around my grandparent’s house (and he preferred my Mother’s extraordinary pecan pies made with the pecans he shelled).
For some the autumn season evokes memories of food. Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, apple cakes and crisps. My family never ate anything different in the fall, not that I can remember. I do remember the boiled peanuts that my Papaw made every year. They were like candy to me and I couldn’t get enough of them. He grew the peanuts in a patch at the end of their vegetable garden. Each summer before I returned home he would till up that patch and plant the peanuts. When I returned, there would be a big pot of boiled peanuts waiting for us to snack on.
Isn’t the word “Autumn” much more descriptive and visual than the plain word “fall”? Autumn is in my memory. I’ve added many more memories of this season, but those first years when I experienced its delights and recognized the continuity of the changing seasons remain as my fondest.