We all have our favorite seasons and our reasons for them being our favorite are numerous. Here in what I now consider home more than my birthplace autumn has swung into focus. Today in St. Louis the sky is that sharp vibrant blue that you only see in spring and fall, the air is crisp and clear, and the leaves have began to change. In my neighborhood the birch trees were the first to show signs of the coming autumn, a shade of gold that catches the light just right so the trees seem to glow. Leaves are already falling, scattered across the sidewalks, and they dance in that cool breeze as if they are celebrating the change of seasons much as we will in the coming days.
For those who don’t know I grew up in a tiny town population 400 in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. As a child I loved my small town, quirks and all, but as I grew older I dreamed of a life outside the confines of my tiny world. I convinced myself as a teenager I hated that town and couldn’t get away fast enough. As I look back now at the age of 41 I realize it wasn’t the place, but rather the people I was trying to escape. My childhood wasn’t perfect as I have often said and at times it was incredibly sad, yet there are memories I cherish, and that are near and dear to my heart. Autumn was always my favorite time of the year. in particular October.
October in my childhood home meant Halloween was coming and with Halloween came pumpkins. We had a field out back of our house where we grew our own pumpkins in a helter-skelter manner.
Watching them grow was one of my favorite things to do. We always managed to get a couple of good sized ones and my mom and dad were always amazed that we did. It wasn’t just pumpkins either that we had. The property had a small orchard where we grew apples and there were other types of produce scattered about our little corner of the universe. We had peaches, cherries, gooseberries, blackberries, tomatoes, peppers and my mother was the ultimate kitchen witch when it came to canning. The canning would start at the end of August and continue through until the first frost.
When I think of autumn I think of my mother either puttering around our kitchen, windows steamed up, and Mason jars lined on the old wooden kitchen table (it was painted green). Or in the evening with us in the yard raking leaves and hauling them out to the back to burn as the sky turned a deep purple edged with pink and yellow as the sun settled below the horizon. When the work was done and darkness started to settle in, the stars taking over the sky until it was nothing but a blanket of sparkling lights, we would gather around the burning pile of leaves to toast marshmallows on makeshift forks created from skinny tree branches.
It is times like these that stick in my mind. My mom leading a rousing rendition of The Purple People Eater or telling ghost stories in that creepy deep voice she loved to use, her dark eyes wide with make believe fear. We always fell for that moment in the ghost story when she’d yelp There it is! and end up screaming in glee as our dad watched, lips curled in a silent smirk, and a cigarette dangling from his fingertips as he stood at the edge of the firelight.
As Halloween approached we would pull out the colored construction paper to create all manner of ghoulies, ghosties, and long-legged beasties that we would scotch-tape to ever window in the house. Halloween was often more exciting for us than Christmas. Anyone daring to visit our house in October would be greeted by windows filled with full moons, tombstones, ghosts, witches, and haunted houses.
When we were younger we did the prepackaged costumes, one year I recall going to school as Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, but as we got older we wanted to make our own costumes. The last year I went trick or treating was with my baby brother who was 4 years old and I was 12. I took one of those plastic pumpkins, cut the bottom and eyes out, and attached a wig made of strips of green terry cloth to the top. I then raided my parents closet for an old pair of my dad’s overalls and a flannel shirt. He wasn’t to happy when I attached more terry cloth to the sleeves of his shirt and the legs of his overalls or for that matter when I snagged his leather work gloves. Once he saw me in my scarecrow costume he couldn’t stop laughing long enough to forgive me for my impromptu costume designing. Of course my baby brother who is now married and 33 would kill me for saying what I did to him. He went trick or treating as a little girl in one of my old dresses and a lace curtain used as a headscarf, his lips red with lipstick, and his cheeks pink with blush. *chuckles* I doubt he told his wife about that.
Of course of all the things we looked forward to carving the pumpkin was our favorite. My brothers and I (I have two and I’m the oldest) would end up arguing over who got to design the face every year. We’d have an impromptu design contest of which my mom was the judge of (my dad was not crazy enough to get involved in that) and it always seemed that she made sure her choice rotated from year to year. It didn’t matter who won though in the end because ultimately we ended up having a pumpkin gut fight which left us all covered in goo. My mom would tell us every year we’d deserve it if we got a pumpkin seed stuck in our dirty ears and it took root.
This time of the year always brings back those memories. Although I have no children of my own I’ve passed on a few of those memories on to my BF’s little boy. This year he’s a teenager, sadly, but before the teen angst took hold he nearly drove me crazy wanting me to tell him scary stories at Halloween. It was a good crazy that I will miss. If I’m lucky though I’ll live long enough to do the same thing for his kids. 🙂