Memories of Autumn
Autumn always brings back special childhood memories, when we lived in a little, gray, four room house that had a wood buring cook stove in the kitchen. The house sat up on a hill, backed by woods, overlooking farmers fields in Slanesville, WV. I was six years old at the time and my younger brothers were five and two.
We would help mom rake all the leaves in the front yard into gigantic piles. You would have thought the two trees in the yard would never stop dropping leaves. But most of the leaves blew in from the woods behind the house. We would spend all day raking, then take turns running and jumping into the piles. Becoming completely engulfed by the leaves and watching the sun dance in the branches above.
Fall activities were taking place all ove the county in late October. Our small mountain church would make apple butter for the Church Bazaar. The nearby White House Apple Company would donate crates, around 48 bushels, of apples to nonprofit organizations, each year. Church members would go over to the warehouse on a Friday night after the lines shut down to use the peeler and coring machines. As the machine spit out the washed, bare skinned apples, several men and women would cut and quarter them befor dumping them in to large plastic trash bags. We would all gather at the Boar Family's home on Saturday, to spend all day cooking down all of those apples mixed with sugar and spices; making batches of apple butter. There were three very large copper kettles on the front lawn. Each with a nice steady fire already burning, since early morning, before the sun rose. I loved taking my turn stirring the sweet smelling contents with the long wooden paddle. It was nice to enjoy the fruits of our labor. When it came time for the Bazaar, Mom would buy at least two jars to take home.
At home we would make caramel apples. I remember unwrapping the caramels from the clear cellophane wrappers, that crinkled like the fallen leaves outside. mom would pour the milk in the pan, then we would start dropping the caramels in a little at a time. I took delight in the fact that my mother trusted me with the duty of slowly, stirring the caramel. I had to stand on a kitchen chair to reach the top of the old wood burning stove. I recall how my hands would get warm, then start to sweat as the spoon would heat up. I would change from my right hand, to my left hand, back to my right hand again to keep them from burning. I now know my mother was a pretty smart woman; why would she stand over the hot stove when she had such an eager volunteer? The aroma of the warm melting caramel filled our little house like a warm, strong hug. When it was time to dip the apples, Mom would stab the apples, some red, some green, with the Popsicles sticks that came in the bag. Each of us, my brothers and I, got to take turns dipping the apples. Mom would line cookie sheets with wax paper and neatly place the golden, sticky treats on the tray. She would then place them on the back porch railing to cool in the Autumn air.
These are just some of the activities that led up to the biggest event of the season. Halloween! Anticipating the big night was just as exciting to me as waiting for Santa Claus. Our costumes were homemade, as we were on a pinch-Penny budget. Mom improvised with what we had. We each wore a flannel shirt, which Mom made for us last Christmas, stuffed at the belly, old dungarees with patches strategically placed at the knee and back pockets. Mom used a piece of charred wood to smudge our faces and added freckles to my face. We were three cheerful Hobos, ready to collect our goodies. Over the years I have learned to make due with what I have, and I realized how creative my mother could be with the simplest things.
Living in the country prevented the traditional door to door Trick-or-Treating. Neighbors from all over would bring their children to the Slanesville VFD Hall for a Halloween party. Each family brought baskets, bowls or brown paper bas filled with candy. The grown ups would sit in chairs, along the walls, around the room. The kids would all line up and Trick-or-Treat from one person to the next and I was always sure to say Trick-or-Treat for me and my two year old brother. A special spooky room was set up at the back of the Hall, where a Halloween story was played out for the older or braver kids. The story was about a witch that crashed as she was flying home one Halloween night. The room was very, very dark with the exception of the eerie glow of a black light and the slow steady flash of a strobe light. Haunting music played low in the background to complete the spooky mood. The details of the story as it was told the are sketchy now. But I still have vivid memories of touching peeled grapes and cooked spaghetti in oil that was supposed to be her eyeballs and brains. There was chunky jell-o for her innards and a bowl of stitcky, liquid for her blood. For a six year old girl it was pretty scary stuff, but I was enjoying the thrill of the scare. My muscles would tense up and a quiver would wash over my body as I reached out to one container after another of supposed body parts and gore. As we made our way through the room we exited into the kitchen, where we washed our hands of all the gory mess we touched. I still enjoy the thrill of a good scary stour and going to haunted houses.
The first hints of Summer changing into Fall, the sweet, tart smell of apples, smoke in the air and the sound of the breezes rushing through the turning leaves spark these memories. This time of year seems to ground me, taking me back to a simpler time when happiness and love could be found in a pan of swirling, melting caramel.