Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Autumn Leaves

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The Lily Pond — On of my favorite places to visit in the fall

I was cutting my grass on Thursday evening and mulching in some of the leaves that had fallen and the smell of autumn leaves brought back memories of autumns in Youngstown and some of the rhythms of life during that season.

There were those leaves. As a kid, I was recruited early on to help rake up all the leaves in our yard, mostly from the huge oak and maple trees of our neighbors. I’d come home from school and a couple times a week would grab the rake, and rake the leaves into a pile in the fire ring in our back yard. There was a time, before air pollution laws, where we would burn the leaves. Dad would do this when I was young but by junior high, I was burning the leaves. During this season, a haze of leaf smoke would add to anything coming from the mills. To this day, whenever I pass a farm in the country where the farmer is burning leaves, my mind jumps back to those days.

I think one thing everyone from Youngstown did was go to Mill Creek Park to look at the leaves as they turned. It was always fun to walk on the trails and hear the leaves crunch under our feet and to take in the greens, the brilliant reds, the deep oranges, the yellows that glowed. I still love getting back to the park during the fall and savoring the beauty of the skylines along the lakes and the changing colors of trees that frame Lanterman’s Mill.

Do you remember school projects where you had to collect leaves of different types of trees, press them between sheets of wax paper and identify the trees from which they came? I wonder how many of us came across these long forgotten leaves years later, perhaps as we cleaned old books out of our parents homes.

With the autumn leaves came those crisp, cool mornings with deep azure blue skies. Usually the brisk air woke me up enough to notice the changing season. In the afternoons, when we weren’t raking leaves, we often met up with our buddies to play touch football until it was time to come home for dinner. Friday nights would find us in the stands for our local high school cheering our team on, bundled up in sweatshirts and eventually heavier coats.

With the turning of the leaves and cooler weather came trips to farm stands or the Whitehouse Fruit Farm and other places where we could pick apples and get pumpkins to make pies and decorate for Halloween. And then there were the groups who used “haunted houses” to raise money while they attempted to scare the bejeebers out of us!

Autumn was a time for those who labored where it was neither too hot nor too cold. We could be outdoors without working up a sweat or without bundling up. Autumn leaves, though, reminded us of the passage of another year, sometimes the end of a summer romance. It was, and is for me a time of both beauty and wistfulness.

What are your favorite autumn memories?