Changing seasons in the Meadowlands
So I am finally writing a column. It has only taken me more than three months, but as I always say-better late than never.
As I kept putting off my column every week, blaming it on my peers for not snapping off a mug shot to accompany my column, I tossed different ideas around. I didn’t think I should follow in my predecesor’s shoes by writing about moving to the Truckee-Tahoe area – since my move was six years ago.
I thought about how sappy it might be to share something sentimental. I tried to think which one of my “soap box” theories on resource conservation I could throw out to the masses.
I thought and thought and thought. Then it came to me.
As I stood outside our office waiting to have my photo taken, I realized it was now autumn and decided to go warm and fuzzy, and reflect on my favorite season.
Autumn and the traditions associated with it have always meant so many things to me.
I spent 23 years of my life in New Jersey. Growing up in Rutherford, a town one-mile square with tree-lined streets and slate sidewalks that could trip the most sure-footed, allowed me the opportunity of enjoying autumns that seemed to last forever.
My parents, Fred and Edie, still live at the old homestead on Donaldson Avenue, where time has seemed to stand still. Their smaller Dutch-colonial home sits among the hulking Victorians and is surrounded by Oak, Birch, Chestnut and Maple trees. Oh, I can’t forget the annoying Beech tree in the neighbor’s yard that used to dump the beech nuts in the grass, the nuts that painfully stuck to the bottom of my bare feet.
The Chestnut trees on the block used to drop the bomber chestnuts wrapped in shells with spikes at least a half-inch long. Usually on summer evenings, my friends and I would begin great chestnut wars, peeling the skins off the shiny, mohagany-colored nuts and whipping them at each other. Invariably the fights would end when one genius in our group would forget to peel the spiky skin off and would impale someone with a nut.
It might sound rough, but it was growing up in New Jersey, and I would take chestnuts over the guns children bring to school these days.
Rutherford, located only seven miles from New York City and only one mile from the home of the New Jersey Giants (don’t let anyone tell you the Giants football franchise is New York material. The team eats and sleeps in New Jersey, and it is the Rutherford and East Rutherford neighborhoods that support the Sunday upheaval), holds a big spot in my heart, not only because my parents live there but because the autumns were just so damn cool.
When I got my photo taken Monday, it reminded me of having my school photos taken. I remember shuffling through the thick layer of leaves along the sidewalks on my way to school. Although I was proud of my father’s unending quest to rid our lawn of leaves, I always liked walking past the houses where lawn maintenance was at a minimum. I could kick leaves all the way down the block until a sudden slate sidewalk monster would leap up and bite my toes.
Most of the trees in town had been there for more than 100 years and their root systems invariably grew under the ancient slate sidewalks making the sidewalks look like Coney Island rollercoasters. I learned that watching the ground while walking was paramount in avoiding embarrassment from tripping.
I also remember my neighbor’s tire swing that used to sail only inches from the ground at the lowest point of the ride. In the autumn, all the neighborhood kids-I think seven or eight-would rake the Hayes’ leaves into a pile at the far end of the tire swing’s reach.
We would take turns diving into what seemed to be a 10-foot pile of leaves. Every child would sink into the multi-colored pile, disappear then reappear.
It is probably the autumn foliage that I remember most. When I was old enough to drive, I would take off with friends to pick apples and pumpkins in upstate New York, which was only 30 minutes away.
The hills blazed with colors. Bright yellow, rich red and brilliant orange leaves seemed to set the landscape on fire.
We would roam the hills for hours picking different varieties of apples: Rome, Delicious and Macintosh. I would bring the apples home for my dad, who would make apple pies until all the apples were gone. The smell of fresh apple pie is something I miss. (If anyone wants to remind me, I would gladly accept any fresh baked apple pie, and pay for it too!)
I always wondered if “dust the kitchen with flour” was in my dad’s cookbooks. My dad would bake preferably when my mom was out of the house so she wouldn’t come home and “raise hell” over my dad’s mess.
I always saw the apple pie through the mess, and never cared about the flour that covered the table or cinnamon that ended up on the kitchen chairs. I know my mom’s pet peeve was the apple stuck to the bottom of the oven after it would sometimes erupt from under the pie’s crust.
My dad’s pies were never shy of apples. The pies usually ended up looking like Mt. Vesuvius halfway through baking.
I can also remember the autumn days spent at my parent’s second home in Pennsylvania.
My friends and I used to ride our horses into the thickly forested areas in northeastern Pennsylvania, singing Christmas carols all the way. We always feared being mistaken for deer in front of frustrated hunters. Everyone thought we were nuts to ride into the forest in the first place, but there was nothing better than hearing the crunch of leaves under our horses’ hooves.
Some things never change. I can see my dad now-taking down the hand-painted butterflies from their lightpost on the front lawn and hanging up the Indian corn. It is a seasonal tradition that I don’t think will change any time soon.
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