Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998


September 20, 1998


Autumn seemed to come earlier when I was growing up than today. We'd see the leaves turning in the mountains and foothills in early September. There was a chill in the air on occasion. Certainly, by October, when we were out in the fields topping sugar beets, there might be frost on the ground. It wasn't at all unusual to sit at football games with our feet in snow or slush.

Football seemed part of autumn. I still can't accept football on hot summer days, and in Kansas we've sat at games in the high 90s or even 100s, waiting for the sun to go down behind the press box. Those kids in their hot band uniforms always looked miserable to me.

We looked forward to autumn or ``fall'' weather after hot summer days, even knowing that cold weather lay ahead. I remember how the house flies always seemed to congregate more in October, and is there still such a thing as fly paper? The odors of summer were about gone, though I think my mother was still doing some canning. Every time I smell vinegar I'm taken back to that hot little kitchen at 333 E. Oneida, Preston, Idaho.

There wasn't the great beauty of autumn leaves that we see in the Midwest. In Denver people used to talk about going into the mountains to see the aspen, but aspen can't touch the bright maple and oak that we know. Never will I forget a trip up north of Montreal and seeing the entire landscape ablaze with color, and then going down into Vermont and New York and seeing the beauty continue. Out west there was a tree called the boxelder, rather like the maple, and I still see the boxelder leaf that I took to class and traced and tried to imitate with crayons.

Autumn meant going back to school, and I was one little boy who always looked forward to school. When the dime store and J.C. Penney's began to display school supplies I was as enthralled as when Christmas toys arrived. I always wanted a school bag but could never afford one, and I wanted not the cheap watercolors or crayons but the ones labeled ``Crayola'' or ``Prang.'' Why do I remember so well a little song we sang in school, ``Trees are turning one by one, golden, red and yellow, brightly now the autumn sun makes the colors mellow''?

By October most of the harvesting of our vegetables was over, but there were still some tomatoes, and we could eat as many as we wanted, right out of the garden. Corn was gone but squash was coming on, and I had a little wagon that I'd take out in the neighborhood full of the big green Hubbards. I remember no pumpkins. Fall apples were coming by then, and they were better than the mushy apples of summer. How we canned the peaches in our home, all the kids helping Mother do the peeling.

I'll always associate certain vegetables with autumn. In college a professor read to us a New Yorker article about celery, an autumn vegetable. Though we have celery all year now it still seems a vegetable of September and October.

Autumn, and geese. Years ago I clipped a picture from this newspaper showing a little boy watching the flying geese. I remember mainly the ducks in the West, and a lot of people hunted ducks, deer, and pheasants. Two of us bought a single shot .22 for $2, but the only thing I shot with it was a gopher, and I didn't enjoy doing that.

A season of melancholy, if you listen to the songs. James Melton, ``September in the Rain.'' Roger Williams, ``Autumn Leaves.'' Woody Herman, ``Early Autumn.'' ``'Tis Autumn.'' And a recording I have of the KU Brass Choir, ``Autumn in New York.''

And the poetry. ``Ah how well I still remember, it was in the bleak November.'' But October is seldom bleak; it's one of the good months, a time of red and yellow leaves, of cool days. Every year I take my grandchildren to the pumpkin patch east of town, to ride on the wagon, choose pumpkins, and, every year, I take a picture of the two, sitting on the biggest pumpkin they can find.

And I have chores ahead of me, trimming the shrubs, cleaning up that jungle that accumulated in the summer heat, and getting out the chain saw. These jobs, too, are part of autumn.

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His columns appear Sundays in the Journal-World.

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