Fall. Time to pull out that flannel and stoke the fire. In the heart of the South, it is celebrated with an abundance of activities. It is the season where colors are vibrant and temps put a bounce in everyone's step! As the first leaf falls and the crisp cool air hits, I can't help but think about special Autumn days gone by.
To begin the season, a visit to a local church or pumpkin patch was in store for picking out just the right pumpkin to decorate the front porch. Carving time was special, seeing who could be the most creative with their design. I had a hard time with putting my hand into it to clean out the guts. Ugh the slime! Grin and bear it time. My design? Just a good ole triangle pattern. I didn't have the patience for cutting out all the intricacies. My Jack-o-lanterns might not have won any contests, but every year as it's candle was lit for the first time, I stood proud gazing at my design.
I loved going to the county fair. Excitement would build as the big event got closer. There was so much for the senses to take in. Just as I entered the gates, the smell of all the foods would act as an elixir. It is where even some of the healthiest or the pickiest of eaters would let their hair down to take part in the eating ritual. It was a paradise for those with a palette for sweets. There were so many choices: caramel and candy apples, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and every fried food imaginable. With my overactive sweet tooth, I wanted to skip the barbecue and fresh cut fries to get down to serious business with just the desserts.
After meeting my sweet quota, it would be time to explore and have a little fun with testing my skill and luck. Enticing chants came from every angle from the operators of the game booths, "Step right up and take your turn at winning a prize!" Carnival games looked so easy. "Just how hard could it be to toss a ping pong ball in a goldfish bowl, throw a dart to pop a balloon, toss rings around the neck of a bottle or bounce a whiffle ball off a board into a basket?" I thought. And so I gave it a shot! After numerous attempts of coming up empty handed and many dollars lighter in the pocket, I walked away swearing it was rigged and no one ever won. BUT just as soon as the words made their way out of my mouth, I'd see a kid smiling from ear to ear walking around with a life-size bear. Talk about a pride beating! My theory was blown!
And how about the rides? They looked so neat at night all lit up. The rides have changed quite a bit since then. The Tilt a Whirl and the Himalayan were about as daring as they made them back in the day. Now, there are all kinds of mini roller coasters, and inverted and twisting monstrosities. I've always wondered about the safety of those things being constructed and taken down all in one week, but it didn't stop me from riding them!
By then, my stomach needed to settle, and I would pop inside the tents checking out the contest winners for the best of just about every vegetable, plant, food, flower and item imaginable. Then there were the farm animals on display and the petting zoo. All the animals looked so sad to me. I just wanted to open the gates and yell, "Be free!" After a couple of minutes, I had enough of the sights and smells. It just did not work well on a queasy stomach.
As I made my way around the grounds, the largest of the crowds were not around the rides. They were out in front of two special showcase tents that housed the showgirls and the amazing and unusual people and animals. They would claim you could see the world's tiniest man, a bearded woman, a cow with two heads, an alien baby, etc. Illusions galore! It was the closest thing to a Vegas show most folks would witness in a lifetime.
The cool nights were perfect for building fires. Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows outdoors were always a treat! I still find fires so mesmerizing. I could stare at one for hours. Did you have a pyromaniac in the group? There was always one that would stick every piece of paper and wood they could find into the pit to watch it go up in flames. As the perfect fire blazed, the moment arrived! Our whittled sticks seemed special, as they came equipped with two prongs for doubling up. I found throughout my lifetime, that there are two types of people when roasting marshmallows. The ones who like theirs toasted only and those that like them burnt! There is an art to making a perfect s’more. You can't set the marshmallow on fire too quickly. The inside will not be ready and the fear of loosing it in the fire will strike. We lost many to a fiery death!
With the beauty of the leaves displaying all their colors, there was a moment of dread in the Fortner house that settled in every year. Just as the leaves began to fall, the infamous family “raking of the leaves” party began. We lived in a yard with lots of mature old trees. So, raking was never an easy chore, and I swear it lasted for what felt like months. We would end up with a few blisters on our hands. It was an exciting time to see Dad pull out the blower. We had MOUNDS of leaves that looked like a mountain range at the end of our yard by the time we were finished. Our reward afterwards was hiding in them and jumping out to scare the wits out of our friends. The moment was cut short when we realized the more we jumped in them, the more we had to rake. I was always so happy to see those very last leaves fall from the naked branches.
In our town, there were some great corn mazes and haunted houses. I've been to some humdinger haunted houses in my younger years. Ones that could bring a grown man to his knees begging for mercy. I remember one where they had to turn on the lights for several in my group that were on the verge of hyperventilating, and another one where my Dad and I made our very own exit door, halfway through. I wonder if they carry liability insurance protection for all the ghosts and ghouls that put on the show? I know I have done my fair share of saying a few choice words and taking a swing or two in the heat of the moment. Back then, the rule of no touching was not very prevalent, and there were no defibrillators to assist the faint at heart.
I was excited for the end of October to come around. Halloween was a MAJOR production. Where "the spookier, the better" was the theme. Houses were adorned with cemeteries, orange and purple lights, talking goblins, and flying bats. The fog machines worked overtime and spooky music blared adding another dimension to the evening's eeriness. The mission was complete if the smaller kids had to walk up to the house with the hand of an adult or better yet carried.
The streets were filled with kids darting to and fro, jumping hedges, and creating their own sidewalks, as they tried to be first to the door to ring the doorbell. I loved the homes where they would leave a basket of candy out by the door with a sign that said "Take only one please." Are you kidding me???
I saw all kinds of costumes on my route. The young kids were always my favorite to watch. There were toddlers with their costumes half on from the layers that itched or fell off, young girls dressed as their favorite Disney princess, and boys sporting their favorite superhero. Then later in the evening the teenagers would hit the neighborhood with either a terrorizing ensemble or dressed in the all inspiring "come as you are" theme. I realized the older I got, that you truly never outgrow trick or treating. Besides, pillow cases were the best for gathering the most candy!
After wandering the streets, it was time to head home. As we made our way back to the house, dragging the candy behind, my only wish at the time was for a wheelbarrow to appear or a parent to show up to take over carrying it. We'd rush inside, dumping it all on the floor, sizing up and comparing the loot with siblings and friends. We created our own makeshift contests to see who got the best candy and who made out like a banshee with the most king size chocolate bars. What about the pile of rejects? But of course, they'd go to our parents. My Dad certainly didn't mind getting them. It was like a lottery win for him! After stuffing our mouths like chipmunks for a while, the candy coma hit and it was off to bed! Stomach aches and sugar hangovers were rampant the next day. If school was in session, teachers BeWaRe! Writing an apology note never crossed my mind as a child. Would not be out of the question right?? Every teacher in America deserved one!
My life has changed since then, but some things haven't. Now?... give me a blanket and a glass of red wine in front of a roaring fire with a starlit sky. And then the kid in me will ask, “Will you please pass a marshmallow so I can toast it for my s'more?" As I roast it and it catches on fire, I blow it out. And in that same breath, I hear, “Life is good."
For more of my short stories, check out A Soul's Prescription, The Directions, and Southern Summer Memoirs.
You can find my images from some of my travels available for purchase at:
iStock by Getty Images
Fotolia by Adobe: us.fotolia.com/p/206433466
They are also available for purchase as prints and on many great products at:
at Balboa Press