Cathy Krizik is a local graphic designer who recently joined my Thursday night feedback class. She wrote this piece in response to the prompt, “Tell me about a pleasurable memory from your childhood,” and I thought it was the perfect piece for October. I grew up on the east coast and have wonderful memories of jumping in fall leaves–and this piece reminded me of that crisp chill in the air–what my mother used to call “sweater weather.”
Rounding the bend to October, I am reminded of the leaves: great soft, pungent piles of them under the maple tree in the front yard, under the oak in the back, and everywhere in between.
I grew up in New England, ground zero for leaf peepers. In late September and early October temperatures in Massachusetts start to fall and the heat of color begins to rise. Hot oranges, flaming reds, smoldering yellows. Our yard was ablaze of color. As my birthday, October 17th, came into view, the world was buzzing. Change was coming.
My pleasure in the season was about more than the cornucopia of color. I also liked the accouterment. We had a wooden toolshed off to the side of the house where the raking paraphernalia was stored: the enormous canvas tarps, the orange metal wheel barrel and the gloves: large for Dad, medium for Mom, small for me.
The leaves might have been beautiful, but once they were on the ground they lost their allure. The neighbors would be unhappy if they raked their leaves and we neglected ours. So every weekend for weeks, I’d trundle outside with a beat-up old heavy sweater, pick up a rake, and get to work. But, it wasn’t work—it was joy. I loved the freedom of being outside, having room for my thoughts to go, the safety of no one to worry about.
I loved the satisfaction of looking behind me to see my progress, the green of the grass emerging from beneath the carpet of ochre and rust and brown. Broad, wicker rakes were used for the wide expanses where the leaves were dry and light. Narrower, steel rakes were perfect for under bushes where the leaves were wet and heavy and decayed, full of hiding worms and salamanders.
It was all so clean out there in the dirt. I’d pull out the big canvas tarps, pile the leaves into them until they were spilling out and over. I’d pull in the four corners and throw the bundle over my shoulder like an autumnal Santa Claus. I’d cross the street, walk through the Caruso’s yard and into the woods beyond. A few yards into the forest, I’d unleash the leaves back into the woods. Dragging the dusty, earthy tarp, I’d head home and do it all again.
I adored the smell, the pleasure of a job well done, the clear, unambiguous evidence of my presence and labors.
I can see the burgeoning of my perfectionism in my raking. A single, stray leaf alone on the lawn would be enough to ruin the effect. And, oh, how easy it was to restore order.
The best part was when my father would come out on the back stairs, stand with his hands in his khakis, his madras shirt loose at the neck, and inspect my work. I took that last lone leaf off the lawn for him—-and did it willingly. I liked the perfection as much as he did. He’d survey the yard and nod approvingly. He wouldn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. I knew he loved being outside, too. He loved things neat and clean and tidy. He loved that I was like him.
Cathy Krizik writes: I am an art director (magazines), career counselor (for unemployed folks), photographer (abstract landscapes), reluctant pray-er (can you pray if you don’t believe in God?), lesbian (are there different kinds? If pressed, I’d cop to being the lipstick variety), and now, it seems, a writer. I love my life.