Scott's Fall Memories
“You look miles away, brother,” Johnny Lancer said one warm, late September day to his older brother, Scott. “What’s on your mind?”
“I was just remembering what fall is like back in Boston,” Scott said. “It’s so warm here in California that I can’t help noticing the differences.”
“So what’s different?”
“A lot of things,” Scott replied. “The smells and sights are different. And it’s a lot cooler in New England, too.”
Lost in thought Scott visualized the multicolored leaves on the maple trees. While the oak trees’ leaves would simply turn brown, and the chestnut trees as well, the maple trees would be ablaze in shades of red, orange and yellow. The sun would shine on them and the whole world seemed brighter – especially if it was a clear day.
“Fist of all there are the colors,” the older Lancer explained. “Back in New England the leaves on the maple trees will be turning all different colors. The leaves turn red, yellow and orange and make it look like the sun is setting the trees on fire. Then there are the sounds – when you walk through the leaves they make a swishing sound – like Teresa’s petticoats. When they’re really dried out they crunch when you walk on them.”
Scott grinned as he thought about childhood games with the leaves. He could smell the bonfires and see the leaves raked into piles that looked like they were twenty feet tall to a child of four and five or even six or seven-years-old.
“Our gardener used to rake all the leaves into these big piles that must have been twenty feet high…”
Johnny burst out laughing at that. “Twenty feet? How many leaves did these trees have anyway? Millions?”
Scott was indignant. “To a small child they looked twenty feet tall! Now are you going to listen or are you going to make more smart remarks.”
Johnny subsided for the moment – but it was difficult as he thought about his brother’s statement that the leaves were piled twenty feet high.
“As I was saying, our gardener would rake up the leaves into these huge piles. Then I would run and jump into those piles of leaves. When I popped back up again I would gather up armfuls of them and throw them in the air shouting ‘happy new year’. It was a lot of fun.”
Johnny burst into laughter again. “You were a crazy little kid, weren’t you? I can’t imagine your grandfather was too thrilled at how you looked when you got through. You must’ve been covered with dirt and leaves.”
“I was and he wasn’t,” Scott grinned. “But I was having fun so I didn’t care. We had one gardener that wasn’t real happy about it but my governess was a very patient woman who understood that boys will be boys and children need to have fun. She’d take me upstairs to my room, give me a bath and put clean clothes on me before I had dinner. After dinner I was taken to Grandfather’s study to say good-night before I went to bed.”
“What were these smells you were talking about?”
“Fires in a fireplace when the weather started turning cold. The air smells different too. It’s hard to explain but it’s the smell of dry leaves and smoke from fireplaces and bonfires. It’s not humid and there’s a sort of crispness to it. It can smell damp, in the morning, with the fog rising from the ground but it’s not an oppressive hot and sticky like it gets during the summer.” Scott’s eyes glowed as his mind went back twenty years to those somewhat carefree days of childhood.
“All of the gardeners on our block used to gather up all the fallen leaves and rake them into the street a little way away from the driveways that led up to the houses. Then they’d burn them. All of the children in the neighborhood, including myself, would go around to the neighbors’ houses that had chestnut trees and we’d gather them up in bags and bring them to the bonfire. Then we’d throw them into the bonfire and listen to them pop.” Scott’s eyes had a faraway look in them. “We’d stand as close to the fires as we could and feel the heat on our faces while the part of us that wasn’t near the fire was quite often cold.”
“What did your nanny say about that?” Johnny loved to gibe his brother about having had a woman that was paid to keep an eye on him.
“Miss Fuller was very nice about it. She had younger brothers and sisters who loved to play in the leaves too. She’d occasionally let me go off on my own with the neighbors’ children and governesses to look for chestnuts. One or two of them would go with us and the rest would sit and chat on the back porch of one of the houses while they waited.”
“When the girls played with the leaves they’d make the gardener rake the leaves into the outline of a house.”
“Huh?” Johnny couldn’t understand that one. How did someone make a house out of leaves?
“It’s quite simple, really,” Scott explained. “They’d rake the leaves into a big square or rectangle and then they’d ‘draw’ lines to mark the rooms – leaving a small opening to indicate the doors to the different rooms. Not much different than a blueprint of a house today except that it was done on the ground rather than on paper. The girls would want to play house while we boys just wanted to jump in the piles of leaves. We stayed away from them and their dolls as much as possible.”
At this revelation Johnny cracked up. “My big brother ran away from girls?”
“How interested in girls were you when you were six years old, little brother?” Scott asked him.
“Not very.” Deciding he’d better change course, so to speak, Johnny asked, “so do you have any special flavors, or tastes, you think of when you remember fall back then?” For all his teasing the younger Lancer was truly enjoying his brother’s memories.
“Hot cider. Hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks in the mugs. Fresh, juicy apples that Grandfather had shipped in from Stow and Bolton. Crunchy fresh apples. Sometimes the cook would bake them – they were good either way and she made the best doughnuts. Sometimes they were just plain but most of the time she sprinkled cinnamon on them and gave me some right out of the kettle she was boiling them in.” Scott’s eyes took on a faraway look again as he remembered the treats and the motherly woman who had ruled over the Garrett kitchen and staff, all the while seeing to it that her employer’s grandson had what he needed as well as some of what he wanted. Baked apples with cloves were a special fall treat and the kitchen would smell of apples and cinnamon for days as she baked apples, turnovers and pies and heated mulled cider for when he came in from a morning or afternoon of playing in the crisp fall air.
Scott continued reminiscing, “Fresh apples were so sweet and juicy and crunchy. You could hear them crunch as you bit into them and the juice would trickle down our throats. The whole downstairs would smell of apple and sugar and cinnamon when Mrs. Poulson was baking pies or frying doughnuts.”
“If they’re that good maybe we oughta get the recipe for Maria and Teresa to try out,” Johnny said.
“I was just thinking the same, Johnny,” Scott said with a grin. “Mrs. Poulson is retired now but I know where to write to her and I’m sure she’ll be glad to send me the recipes. If there were a way to send me doughnuts and pies, without them spoiling before they get here, she’d probably do that too. She’s a very lovely woman.”
As they finished their conversation the two young men headed toward the barn to retrieve Ranger and Barranca so that they could head up to Wolf Creek to check on a small bunch of cattle that were grazing nearby. They passed the large oak trees that lent some shade to the house and grounds. Spying a pile of dried leaves that Jelly Hoskins, their handyman, had raked up Johnny dropped back behind Scott and scooped two handfuls of them up and ran up to his brother. As he passed him he dumped the leaves over Scott’s hatless head reveling in the fact that his normally fastidious brother now had dried leaves and twigs and dust on his blond hair.
“What was that for?” Scott asked as he tried, in vain, to clean his hair of the twigs and bits of leaves.
“Didn’t want ya to miss playing in the leaves,” Johnny called as he ran from his “irate” brother.
I just couldn’t resist sharing some happy memories of my own having grown up 25 miles from where Scott did. Fall in New England is a beautiful thing with all those maple trees and the sun shining on them. Many of the orchards in the area now have “pick your own” times complete with tractor pulled hay rides. And, yes, we girls used to rake leaves into the outline of houses and “play house”. It seems to me that we even made “beds” by putting old sheets on the ground. Happy Fall Everyone!