Part III – The Seasons of My Life
I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond beneath which the white stems of three aspens diverged… next to the water. Ah, many a tale their colors told, And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake. Each morning, the manager of this gallery substituted some new picture, distinguished by more brilliant or harmonious coloring.
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
THE OCTOBERS OF YESTERYEAR
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”
L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables
The emotional and physical geography of Knightstown had an impact on the geography of my life, just as Vicki’s Irvington Halloween Festival Days became a part of her. Memories of Knightstown, its people and events are bound up together like a skein of soft, fuzzy yarn that is wrapped around my heart and keeps it warm during the winter of my years.
My past is still my present within me. I can see myself walking to school along Carey St., collecting pretty leaves to take to teachers. After school Wanda and I jump into a pile of leaves that we’ve raked. I’m eight or nine, and She’s two years younger. The potatoes that we try to bake on a bonfire that we build – Oh pioneers! – are black and inedible. We love to catch the ends of sticks on fire and sketch glowing circles in the air…
I march around in a horde of kids at the old gym, wearing a costume that mother made of crepe paper. Alas, I cry bitterly when a mischief-maker tears it up. If I remember correctly Linda Forst was part of a horse that kicked the dickens out of anyone who molested it. I don’t suppose that today’s kids know about the tic-tacs, an ornery, harmless gadget for Halloween devilry. Mother showed Rex Mattix and me how to take a wooden spool, cut out triangular wedges all around both ends with a sharp knife, wrap string around it and stick a long nail through its hole to hold on to, allowing the spool to revolve freely.
Stealthily we cross Franklin St. and tiptoe onto the front porch of the Holidays, who are having a peaceful evening. Mrs. Holiday is reading the newspaper while Mr. Holiday enjoys an after-dinner snooze. Their son Vernis is tootling away on his saxophone.
“Giggle!” “Shh! Don’t make a sound!” We press our tic-tacs snugly against the window and grasp the loose end of the string. Rex whispers, “One… two… THREE – Let ‘er rip!” We pull on the string so that the spools revolve against the windowpane. “ZZZZZZZZZZIP!” The hellacious noise far exceeds our expectations.
Mrs. Holiday screams, and Vernis jumps up and runs outside. Rex tears across the street to Auntie Ida Kelly’s house while I fall into some peony bushes. Vernis stalks back and forth, muttering threats, his sax still hanging from its cord.
I lie there shuddering, terrified that a spider will get on me. Vernis keeps muttering, “When I get my hands on you…” After twenty minutes he goes back inside. (Actually, it’s probably two minutes.) Rex and I finally creep home.
Here’s a recipe that guarantees happiness: Sharpen the end of a green stick, rake up a big pile of leaves, jump in them for a while and then set them on fire and roast hot dogs followed by marshmallows whichever way you prefer them – set on fire so they’re black and burny as I like them or puffy and golden as Bill prefers. I call it “October Delight.”
Sometimes other writers’ stories stir up memories. Ethel Winslow, one of the publishers of the Eastside Voice, debated the propriety of putting costumes on pets, but finally dressed up her dog for the Irvington Halloween Festival. Her story carried me back to Knightstown where the town merchants sponsored Jubilee Days on the Public Square.
My impecunious nephews and nieces entered all of the contests because entrants got a quarter for each. Those quarters were promptly reinvested at the Festival, so the merchants didn’t lose money. The boys even entered the doll contest, concealing tiny dolls in the palms of their hands that they flashed as they passed the judges.
One of my nieces who was about twelve years old had no pet to enter in the Pet Parade, She decided to take my cat Copper. Now, Copper was not a sociable cat. He didn’t even like my mother and me very much and eventually moved to another home even though we had treated him like a prince. “That ingrate!” said Mother.
Mother said, “I’m telling you; you’d better not try to take that cat.” Stubbornly: “I’m taking him.” She sneaked up and pounced on Copper who was snoozing in a sunny window, tied a piece of string to his collar as a leash and carried him up Carey St. while we stood out in the street and watched.
She made it as far as the Averys’ house. We saw a flurry of motion. The frantic cat broke loose and tore down an alley, not to return for three days. Mother guffawed. “I guess Copper didn’t want to be in the parade.” My niece dragged home, “a-bawling and a-squalling, “ as Mother put it. Copper had scratched her to a fare-thee-well. Worse yet, he’d pooped all over her!
This is my favorite season: The golden-hued fields of late September changed to the autumn glory of Halloween. Then the calendar will move on to the foodie’s delight of Thanksgiving and kinfolk gathered ‘round and build up to the splendor of Christmas. (Bah humbug! They’ve already got the wrapping paper out in stores.)
Late October and early November is persimmon time. Persimmon fanciers are as passionate as those who prize truffles and wild mushrooms; and persimmons are about as difficult to procure. My mother liked to eat them raw, but Bill is virtually addicted to persimmon pudding.
Wild persimmons are orange globes about an inch in diameter with a cap like an acorn. I don’t remember them in Knightstown, but they grow on tall trees around Irvington. When ripe they take on a rosy blush with a bluish hue when frost hits them. These aren’t the same as the larger Japanese ones. You cannot buy them in stores because gathering them and processing them wouldn’t be profitable.
You can’t rush persimmons. They require patient waiting and watching till they ripen and fall to the ground. Squirrels and birds eat them. The Indians taught settlers about them, but many people have never tasted them. Their flavor is delicate, elusive, and unique. Bill says that it’s reminiscent of an apricot. It’s a horrible, unforgettable experience if you bite into one before it’s ripe because it puckers your mouth.
Persimmons contain large seeds to which the pulp clings, and it sticks like Super Glue to whatever it touches. Bill said that when he was in the Army they used them to clean the kitchen floor. It takes many persimmons to get enough for a pudding. We laboriously force them through a food mill and scrape off every bit of pulp as if it were gold. Perhaps the messy effort involved, and their scarcity add to their allure.
– CONTINUED –
Seemingly straightforward events aren’t always simple, especially when they enter the realm of reminiscence. I encountered this phenomenon while gathering persimmons. The process of dealing with them sent me back and forth from the early days of our marriage to recent memories of my favorite ol’ boy, Wayne Clark.
We moved into our Irvington home during the winter. When late October arrived, an elderly gentleman knocked on the door. He introduced himself as having been a member of the Presbyterian Church when Dr. Ferguson was its beloved minister. “Are the persimmons ripe? Dr. Ferguson always let me have some.”
I replied, “Is that what those orange things are? Let’s go look.”
Next my mother and my sister, Virginia, came to visit. “Goody! You’ve got persimmons!” They explained how they must be eaten when ripe lest they draw your mouth into a pucker. Bill mentioned at school that we had persimmons, and Jane Morgan gave him a family recipe from her native Kentucky. Thus, developed a habit of over forty years of getting persimmons pulp that Bill carefully hordes.
Every fall we tried to beat the squirrels and birds to this delectable fruit. You cannot pick persimmons because they will not be ripe and must drop naturally. Also, it’s always cold out, and you cannot wear gloves because they’re so sticky. One year, fellow Irvingtonian, Kathy Tindall and I climbed Bill’s extension ladder, intending to shake the branches. We huffed and puffed with the heavy ladder to no avail.
After we moved away, the Barnett’s gave us persimmon pulp until we fell into persimmon paradise when I met Wayne Clark, a colleague at my firm. Every year, he’d call: “Clarke, this is Clark. The ‘simmons are ready.” The year before his death, he said sourly, “Someone’s getting them before I get up.” His house is on a corner, so it was easy to purloin his precious crop. “Oh well, maybe the Lord figured someone else should have a turn.”
The was Wayne’s attitude about most things. Other than our Muslim friend, Vadel, he had the most active faith I ever saw, and the best thing about it was that he never judged others. His faith was an everyday habit,
rather than a Sunday event. One of those people who understand money, he had a group of elderly women whom he hauled on errands and looked after their financial interests.
When he retired from real estate he worked at a McDonalds and at two different mortuaries until one of them found out and fired him for working for the competition. “It’s not like I was out trying to drum up business for them!”
One day I called him. “Whatcha’ doing, Wayne?” “Oh, I’m just sittin’ here talkin’ with God.” A few days later, he pulled up in our driveway, driving a Lincoln Town Car about as long as a limousine.
“Pretty snazzy wheels you got there!”
“Well, I’d been driving by the lot, wantin’ that car for a month. Finally, I talked to the Lord about it.”
“And what did He say?’
Wayne got a twinkle in his eye: “The Lord said, ‘you’ve been a pretty good boy lately, Wayne, and I think you should have that car!’”
I went to visit Wayne in the hospital before he slipped peacefully away. In October I called his widow: “Are there any persimmons?” While I was out in her yard, I thought about the people whom I had encountered over the years during our annual persimmon hunt. My best ol’ buddy was no longer here, but I felt his presence under his tree.
Now Bill can rest easy. We shall have persimmon pudding for several Thanksgivings and months to come. However, Bill was grieved when I announced that I was going to offer to return the Barnetts’ pulp because we had so much.
A LEAF PEEPING EXPEDITION
Bill doesn’t enjoy autumn: “Dying,” he moans. “Everything’s dying!”
I try to console: “Dear, nature is just going to rest.”
“But these leaves are gone forever.” Several years ago, I talked him into taking a leaf-peeping trip to Main by promising him all the lobster he could eat. En route we drove through upstate New York.
I fell in love all over again with this glorious land that is America! This happens whenever I travel away from my everyday life. I’ve had love affairs with Brown County, southern Utah, the Colorado mountains, the Tetons, New Orleans, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts; and I’ve owned imaginary homes in each. I’d also like to live in Paris, Provence, Devon, Tuscany, and Venice! So many choices, so little time and money and only one existence to live!
Then I added a new place to my list! Upstate New York is rich in history, vineyards, pretty little towns, lakes, and forests that are a sharp contrast to the uglification near New York City.
When we went through Utica I found myself humming, “Oh I had an old gal and her name was Sal – best damn cook on the Erie Canal!” Long forgotten stories of the Mohawk River Valley came to mind. I gave a mental salute to Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement when we drove through Seneca Falls.
And then we came to Eden! Picture this: It’s early on a perfect, crisp, golden October morn. The pure, unpolluted air is redolent with the spicy scent of pine and fallen leaves. There is no one else out and about. When we stop for a few minutes there’s no thrum of car engine, shriek of siren, whine of air conditioner or buzz of lawn mower. The silence is broken only by the sough of the breeze in the trees and the occasional raucous cry of a Canadian jay.
Carefree, we meander along the little roads and byways of the Adirondack forests past pristine ponds and streams under an azure sky. It is in the Adirondacks that the Hudson River begins its journey to the ocean. It’s small here but requires a three-mile-long bridge to cross it north of New York City. Sky blue and the vivid autumn colors of the trees are reflected so clearly onto the still waters that when we look at our photographs it’s hard to tell up from down. I said to Bill, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living here some day!”
AH! THE PEACE OF A SIMPLE DAY
“A book of verses underneath the bough,
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou beside me…”
Edward Fitzgerald, translator – The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
ctober 25, our anniversary, started crisp and gradually warmed as the sun moved across a cloudless, cerulean sky. Our splendid oak was a blaze with color.
We packed a picnic and went to the Shades which I had always wanted to visit since I was ten years old when Miss Newby collected dimes at school to help the state preserve over 2000 acres of virgin timber.
Thoughts scribbled on a park brochure: A perfect October day in the October time of our life together. The autumn landscape is bathed by the afternoon sun. There are few people here. Interrupted only by an occasional crow’s caw or the breeze’s sigh, the silence seeps into my spirit. Peace!
We toast with cheap Chianti and sit companionably, munching our sandwiches. Afterward we hike through the ancient woods through which gorges cut by a glacier and Sugar Creek run. Occasionally I rest while Bill goes on ahead.
Fifty feet above, the three o’clock sun gleams on the autumn tinted leaves so that it looks as if a net of golden lace has been tossed across the topmost boughs.
I sit on a stump. A tree’s rings reveal its age and history. Perhaps our crows’ feet, laugh and frown lines and wrinkles reveal our age and human history.
Bill is out of sight. Not to worry. If I tarry too long he’ll come back for me. At trails end he is waiting, as he always does… We get in the car and turn towards home.