The girls were plucking yellow leaves off my parent’s elm, gathering them like paper dolls in their arms, cradling the beloved treasures until they could get inside and press each leaf baby between sheets of wax-paper. Ignoring the leaves on the ground, the orphans, the girls stripped the lower branches of every last perfect specimen. They all end up there on the ground, I said, attempting to make a bigger point about The Circle of Life (terms they’d understand) and the inevitability of all things falling and carried away by the wind. Yet they went on, oblivious: harvest season.
We were there to put up Halloween decorations. A call came in a couple weeks back reminding me that the season (and the task) was at hand and I’d have to arrange my schedule to suit mom’s need to have the most garish house in the neighborhood. One of those calls that is expected yet dreaded; if you don’t pay those parking tickets we’re going to hunt you down and boot your tire, it’s your turn to bake several thousand cupcakes for the upcoming PTO extravaganza. See, it’s not as simple as tacking up a few day-glo monster faces and installing a blacklight bulb. I swear, my mom owns massive shares in Hallmark and I’m convinced that several Chinese factories have a temple devoted to her, incense, candles and plastic statues showing her arms outstretched, both hands brandishing a credit card.
After risking life and sciatica, several large boxes were pulled from their space in the garage and placed in the courtyard. Muttering to myself (if you’re going to get free labor from me, bygod, you’re going to get muttered curses), my muddled mathematical mind calculated lengths of extension cords, minimum labor, and what circuits could handle the load of glimmering crap without exploding like cherry bombs. As I pondered, fuses crackling (my own and the ones I imagined), the wee ones raided the boxes, playing with rubber skeletons and tangling up strands of little orange lights. They placed plastic spooks and ghouls around the lawn, not as ornaments but as new-found playmates. As I went about my task, imaginary friends relocated to a permanent spot, plugged into the web of power, the kids squealed with delight every time their toy took on a new aspect and glowed softly in the rarified light of an Indian Summer’s late afternoon.
Mom had White Chili (whatever THAT is; anyway, it was delicious) simmering on the stove and a secret beer for me as compensation for my efforts. I say “secret beer” because dad no longer drinks (not having the mind for it - he’s in AA - nor the body for it). He’s become like the elm tree out front, leaves plucked by children unaware that their own fate awaits like his, leaves piling up on the driveway, branches broken by an unforgiving wind. Facing that, his autumn, his sunset, he simmers in his own resentment and sorrow- me and not him, setting up Halloween, too weak and infirm to do it himself. He and I were never close and indeed, I was never his true son. He adopted me but never accepted me, black sheep that I am. Yet among the sons he sired, I am the one who comes by and hangs cheap plastic crap or fixes gutters or captures the garter snake coiled up in the basement.
Not having a yard (per se), I love working on my parent’s lawn, landscaping, putting in plants, showing my children how vegetables grow. I tore out wretched lava rock this past summer and replaced it with vinca minor. The way the vines have come in has convinced my parents to let me take out the rest of the rock, put in some slate blocks and grow more vinca.
The stuff that I put up comes down in November and I have a brief reprieve. Indeed, as I take down the Halloween stuff, I’ll set up the big inflatable turkey and that’s all I have to do until Thanksgiving and fuck.