It’s finally here. That time of year when hoodies and jeans are a staple of the Midwest fashion diet. Sure, there’s some that try to hurry that fashion trend into regular rotation at the beginning of September, but they’re the ones sweating walking from their car to the grocery because they saw dew on the grass at 8am. Listen, just because it’s September and you’ve seen a few leaves on the ground doesn’t mean you can break out the fleece and your comfy jeans just yet. Don’t be the sweaty fool at the check-out line freaking out the cashier as she assumes you’re slowly dying underneath that Nike hoodie and baggie Silvertab jeans. Bring it back a bit. Keep the shorts and flip flops handy Captain Autumn, summer’s not done with you just yet.
As I was saying, we’ve surpassed the summer grind and October is upon us. We’ve made it to October 7th. Today’s high temp is going to be 74 degrees. Tomorrow the high will only be 62 degrees(yes, get out the hoodie now.) This really is my favorite time of year. You can keep your balmy, sun-drenched days of yore. And as far as winter goes it can go to Hell. I’m done with frigid temps, too. Nah, fall is when I feel most alive; when everything around me is dying.
My love for Autumn and October started as a kid growing up in Northeast Indiana. The house I grew up in was situated in a forest of pine trees. It was a newly minted housing addition called, wait for it, the Pines. The pines were a single row of homes along to intersecting county roads that lined the edge of this pine forest. When fall rolled around pine needles would fall, turning from vibrant green to fading brown. This wasn’t like having a couple maple trees in the yard and raking those up. No, pine needles embedded into the grass. You couldn’t easily rake or blow them into a pile. It took work. Backbreaking, time-consuming work. Fortunately for my mom and dad they had two aloof sons they could barter with in order to get the raking work done. A couple Mad Magazines, some packs of baseball cards, and maybe throw in a couple Star Wars action figures and the work would be done. My brother and I would make a game out of the work. We’d rake lanes in the back yard for miniature golf. We’d create trenches where I could land the Millennium Falcon, Snow Speeder, and X-Wing Fighter. We’d make a trail for the dog to walk along(which he never did.) Raking isn’t the reason I love fall, but it was an activity that my older brother and I did together. One of the few things we both disliked doing but made something fun out of.
Another reason for my adoration of the falling of the leaves, as it were, was the woods I lived in. Back then it was a dark and ominous place to be in around dusk. This was prior to any development of the land behind my parent’s house, so it was just a vast forest that felt like it went on forever. Being a pre-teen growing up on horror films the forest was the ultimate spot for bloody mayhem. Heading back into the woods on a Friday night or Saturday evening the imagination of an overly bored 9 year old would kick into overdrive. Movies like Friday The 13th, Lon Chaney Jr’s The Wolfman, The Fog, and Sleepaway Camp tossed and toiled in my brain and I’d eventually end up freaking myself out enough that I’d end up running like my ass was on fire back to our house as if Jason, Wolfie, or a psychotic she-man was chasing me through the brush of the pine forest. It was horrifying and exhilarating. I’d call this self-horrified cardio. The woods behind my house was a vast wonderland of shadows, broken trees, thick brush, and ample pockets of unknown that pushed my “what if?” button almost constantly.
Caramel apples. Need I say more??
Of course, this was all just mere foreplay that led up to the big kahuna. The amber-colored main event known as Halloween. The day when every kid in the neighborhood got to pick out a flimsy cardboard box at Kmart, 3D, or Harveys department store that was filled with a plastic surgical smock in the colors of C3PO, Strawberry Shortcake, or He-Man; as well as a painful, molded face that might resemble that character. You’d put the smock on and your mom would tie the back for you like it was hospital gown, you’d put on said painful mask, grab a brown grocery bag, and head out for the goods. Where I grew up I was pretty lucky because there were plenty of houses along our road to hit up, as well as the adjoining Lake Forest addition that was just down the road. Traffic was minimal and the upper middle class Reagan-ites were happy to dole out sweet, mass-produced confections. I was a shy kid, so I always liked trick-or-treating with a friend. But if no friend was available my mom would walk up to the house with me(I eventually grew out of that and mom didn’t have to walk up with me anymore. I think I was 30.) There was still an air of creepiness, even in the housing addition. It was in a forest, so not much light back there with the exception of the front porch lights and a few random street lights. I can remember one year not wanting to go up to a house because they had a sign on their front porch that read “No Peddlers”. My mom tried to convince me that I wasn’t peddling, that I was trick-or-treating. I wouldn’t have any of it. Even the owner of the house was on his front porch with a bowl of candy telling me it was okay. No way. Couldn’t do it. Me and my vampire mask kept walking. I think my mom ended up grabbing some candy for me out of embarrassment; both for me and the poor guy that couldn’t give away candy to a midget-sized bloodsucker.
Now, being a responsible adult, husband, and father of 3 the fall still holds that magic for me. I probably only have a couple more years left of the trick-or-treating before the kids are too old and too cool to go to homes of strangers and ask them to smell their feet in exchange for bite size Hershey bars. That thought makes me a little sad. As a parent, one of the advantages is you get a front row seat to revisiting some of your own great childhood memories(and maybe a few childhood traumas, too…but that’s for another day.) The thrill of a birthday party and opening gifts, Christmas morning, spending the night with grandma and grandpa, your first scary movie, and the thrill of Halloween night through the eyes of your children are all pretty great things. When those go, you’re kind of losing those memories all over again.
It is what it is. Enjoy the autumn stroll, no matter how many times you’ve walked the same path. Eat the lousy candy your kids give you because they don’t like it(and neither do you.) You may be tired, but stay up and watch that stupid movie with ’em anyways. Sooner or later they’ll hole up in their bedroom and you won’t see ’em again until you’re moving them into a dorm room. Make some trails in the pine needles, just for the hell of it.
And when all else fails, snort some pumpkin spice. Or don’t.