“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
— Humbert Wolfe
When October is at its finest, there is joy in watching children experience every bit of it, tinged with bittersweet memories of our own faded youth. As the days grew shorter and the hints of chill yet to come settled around our shoulders, what I remember most is not playing in the leaves, as many first recall.
What I remember best, along with my sisters, is running our hands through an abundance of golden shelled corn, still wet and cold. The enormity of it prompted me to ask my big sisters if we were now rich.
I learned how to help hitch hopper wagons to the tractor tongue, and how to test shelled corn for moisture. Reporting the number to my dad made me feel I was a big cog in the wheel of harvest.
Dad was a happy man in the midst of harvest, even though it meant very long days fueled by coffee. The alarm clock blaring at 4:30 a.m. pushed him out the door for the morning milking, with no rest until the last check of bins around midnight.
When I was very little I loved to help pack his lunch and dinner and accompany Mom to the fields, because I missed him so much I could hardly stand it. My sisters remember helping Dad run the old corn picker, then hauling ear corn to the big corn crib.
My only memory of the days before shelled corn harvest is seeing our father walk in the house covered in what looked like black soot. Scared he was hurt or sick, I started to cry, and he joked about it with me.
“I’m not sick, dearie, I’m just filthy dirty!”
I watched him wash up at the bathroom sink and saw the water turn from clear to black.
The seasons of childhood on a farm always rotated around what our dad was doing. We would play in the creek alive with tadpoles while he planted in springtime, then run through colorful falling leaves along that same stretch of murkier water while he harvested in autumn. The wind whistled and whipped the leaves all around us, joyfully running through a cyclone of vibrant color.
Kids learn about being helpful in this way. Our play was built around where and when work called for us. We didn’t complain and ask for five more minutes of playtime, because we were tuned in to doing what we could to help. Dad’s praise at the supper table was the best payment. We knew we were part of something bigger than we could even fully comprehend.
The farm and its success was what kept us all fat and sassy, pulling together as a team. The beauty found along the way was a bonus. The good earth provided everything we needed and then some.
As this month bows out, I think of an Oliver Wendell Holmes quote I memorized long ago: “October, the extravagant sister, has ordered an immense amount of the most gorgeous forest tapestry for her grand reception.”
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