The glorious panorama visible from my living room windows is three rows of corn away from being restored. Another round of the combine will allow me to again watch deer cavort across the field and the woods beyond blaze its way through fall.
Yes, it is time once again for Mother Nature to transform herself and her landscape. And it is time once again for me to contemplate the autumnal scenes I know I will soon witness. But with those few remaining stalks still blocking my view, I will bide my time with recollections of Octobers past.
During my River Road years there were few potted mums and elaborate Halloween decorations so popular nowadays. But we did have lots of leaves. I recall very little raking of foliage from our butternut, catalpa, and cherry trees. Oh, we probably jumped into a few leafy piles, but I mostly remember the shape of the brilliantly-colored maple leaves resulting from shorter days and longer nights. Sometimes Mother pressed the prettiest ones between sheets of waxed paper for school assignments – and sometimes just to keep.
And fall was not really fall without a pilgrimage to the apple orchard. A bag of fruit, a jug of cider – and eventually homemade applesauce tinted pink with red hots or a baking dish of tasty apple crisp topped with rolled oats and brown sugar. That’s what fall is made of…
With bales stacked high in the haymow and an ensilage-filled silo, winter inevitably snowed its way to River Road. Our frustrated mother bundled the four of us into Heidi-like layers of cold-weather clothes, only to have our forays into winter wonderland last a few disproportionately-short minutes compared to the time and energy she had expended in preparation.
Winter always brought the return of the coal bucket to its place by the stove in the kitchen. Both parents kept the fire going: from gloved hands tossing in chunks of fuel that had been delivered by an Army buddy from southern Ohio to adjusting the damper and periodic ash removal – all day, every day, all winter long. And often the stove in the living room glowed red with sweat-inducing heat, even as frost collected on the inside of the windows just across the room.
Very occasionally we crowded around the radio to hear the announcement of a school-free snow day. But our bus drivers, mostly area farmers accustomed to traversing any road safely, delivered us regularly to school, where boots and mittens cluttered classroom cloakrooms – and a few girls wore snow pants under their dresses.
When spring tiptoed back to River Road, Mother Nature celebrated with a canvas of pastels, soft-pink cherry blossoms and gently-lavendered lilacs along with flashy splashes of forsythia yellow and fire bush red. We gathered spring beauties and sweet Williams that carpeted the pasture across the road and handfuls of tiny, shy violets from the yard into bouquets for Mother. Sometimes we even added colorful weeds like dandelions to our little nosegays, being the equal-opportunity florists we turned out to be.
School recess moved from the gym back out to the playground. Games of Red Rover and softball resumed while, on the other side of the school fence, farmers plowed and planted. More than one classmate’s exuberant trip down the slide ended in a puddle formed by April showers. Days lengthened as the sun warmed the air through those final weeks of spring that culminated in last-day-of-school joy.
We headed into countless, carefree days of summer undershirtless and shoeless. The rambler roses and hollyhocks blooming on River Road were no more beautiful in our eyes than jimson weed blossoms and Queen Anne’s lace. Each day that began with the hum of insects over dewy grass and morning glories trailing above the kitchen windows led to a hot summer sun heating roadsides punctuated by bright, statuesque day lilies. Cool night air arrived ever later as June bugs buzzed the door screen and lightning bugs lit our way.
We spent hours swinging on the tire suspended from the butternut tree or digging in the sandbox by the old milk house. But Mother also read to us; and when we could ourselves read, we joined the summer reading program at the library. Miss Frost and Miss Ansberry counted the number of books county youngsters read during June, July, and August, each week marking updated totals on construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names and thumbtacked to bulletin boards. What fun to check our duck or umbrella or sailboat – according to the summer’s theme – for the ever-growing tally of our summer reading achievement.
Suddenly and finally, the peonies of Memorial Day and the hotdogs and marshmallows cooked on sticks over a Fourth of July fire faded to memory as seven whole days of county fair fun closed out a summer that would again lead to…
So, I will savor whatever Mother Nature has in store on the other side of those cornstalks. But somehow the October skies my mother loved so much were just a little bluer, the cold that froze milk in the newfangled bulk tank was just a little more bracing, the Easter lilies pushing their way through the thawing soil were just a littler braver, and the daunting noontime heat when hay had to be baled before it rained was just a little hotter – during those long-ago seasons on River Road.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.