BoomerCafé is a place for baby boomers’ memories … and all the better if the writer’s memories are kind of like some of ours. That’s what we hope you’ll find in this excerpt from the book Life at 12 College Road by Eric Mondschein, our friend in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It’s from a chapter called Fall Leaves.
The fall is often romanticized as a time for strolls in the park, hikes in the woods, the World Series, football, Thanksgiving, and, of course, looking at all the beautiful colors. These autumn traditions held true enough for my brother and me growing up, but all those wonderful colors came with a hefty price tag.
We lived in the country, and trees — large oaks, maples, and pines — surrounded our home. The oaks were most prominent: they covered our property from one end to the other. Of course, in the summer they provided shade and were great for, shall we say, slightly dangerous climbing. It was easier climbing the pines, but then we’d always stain our clothes with pine tar and attract Mom’s ire.
But those oak trees — they were something else.
As winter neared, they blanketed the yard in acorns and dead, brown, often soggy leaves. And when Jeff and I were big enough to hold a rake — which, mind you, was when we were half as tall as it was long — we had to rake the leaves into piles and drag them to the woods.
So, on a Saturday morning in the late fall, we would head outside to tackle the chore. The first step was picking a rake. These weren’t just any old rakes — they were heavy wooden things with gnarly, claw-like metal fingers that pointed chaotically in all directions. I once suggested to my dad that we get the new light-weight rakes with smooth plastic fingers. Let’s just say that I didn’t suggest it again.
After picking our tools of the trade, my brother and I would choose a corner of the yard and begrudgingly get to it. Before long, we’d start to monitor each other, just to make sure our counterpart was pulling his own weight. Soon enough, when I’d look over at Jeff, he would just be standing there, staring into the woods with the rake in the crook of his arm. I had no idea what he was looking at, but I’d shout at him to get back to work. And, every time, there would be no response. I mean — nothing. He would not move, not even inch. He just kept gazing into the trees.
Well, I certainly wasn’t going to rake the leaves by myself. No sir, not me. I would look down, and the biggest acorn I could, and let it fly.
It’s amazing how getting hit in the cheek by a hard, fast-moving projectile on a cold, windy day can get one’s attention. And I always marveled — still do — at just how loudly my brother could wail when my parents were nearby. Sure enough, the noise he made would bring my dad outside in a hurry.
With his first steps out the door, Dad would demand to know what had happened. And, without fail, my brother was more than happy to let him know: for no apparent reason, simply out of the blue, I had heaved an acorn at a defenseless, innocent, hard-working boy.
The accusation now presented to my dad, he would examine the evidence. The red mark on Jeff’s cheek made it an open-and-shut case. He would tell my brother to go show his mother; she would take care of it. She could, too — she wasn’t just our mom, but a certified nurse.
Then Dad would turn his attention to me, shaking his head in pure disappointment, in that way only a parent can. He’d hand down my sentence: I was to finish the work — all of it. He did not expect to see me until the job was done.
Hours later, sometime in the late afternoon, I would enter the house through the back door, which led right into the kitchen. I would say to no one in particular, “I’m finished.” Mom would smile, ask me if I was hungry (knowing the answer), then tell me to get washed up while she made me a sandwich.
As I sat at the table alone with that hard-earned sandwich, I would have a rare moment of clarity. It would dawn on me that I was always finishing the raking job by myself. It was not fair — I was not going to let my brother get away with it again. No way, no how!
But epiphanies can be fleeting. By the time I took my last bite, I would have already decided which acorn — out of the stash I had hidden behind the garage — to use next Saturday morning.