I hadn’t raked leaves at my mother’s house for nearly 35 years. The yard service had done a final cut a few weeks back but since then it seemed as if all the neighboring trees had decided to give their leaves up to my mother’s lawn as a going away gift. Her trees—all oaks—have been stubbornly been hanging onto their charges not wanting to give up this year’s production. It was as if they decided that this was the season to wear a raccoon coat of foliage and no rain or wind would remove the slightest bit.
So as I looked upward at the future blanket for the lawn, I needed to deal with the neighbors’ leaves. There was an old rake missing a few teeth in the garage that my father used years ago before he turned over that duty to others and a pile of old plastic bags. I asked my mother to join me outside. To my surprise she did.
The straw-like zoysia grass was holding onto its blanket with more vigor than does my fescue at home. Perhaps it realizes that the trees above will not give them cover quickly leaving them to deal with the cold autumn winds for longer than they would like. Regardless, I pulled the leaves into large dumpling-shaped piles in the middle of the lawn. Now it was time to bag.
My mother walked out to take a look and I joked to her if she would like to jump into a pile. She laughed and said that was my pleasure of years ago. I thought back about that and remembered that the piles seemed so much larger then. My father and I would rake leaves into a heap that was as tall as me and then I would burrow inside as would a creature readying to hibernate for the season. It was warm and there was an unmistakably sour-sweet smell of decay.
But the piles have gotten smaller as I now towered over them not wanting to jump in but bag them so the town could haul them away to compost. At my home, I just rake the leaves into the woods. Job done. But in my mother’s manicured neighborhood, there is no such space and everything must be removed.
So I opened a bag, shook it out and placed it on the ground anchoring it with my feet and holding an edge while my other arm started to pull swaths of leaves into the bag. Like a piston, my arm mechanically swept the area until I needed to stop and rebuild the pile. Pulling the bag off the ground I shook it and then punched the leaves down, compacting them into a tight mass before repeating the exercise. My father taught this to me.
My mother was supervising the operation from the front step, sitting down carefully after she placed her cane next to her and a piece of cardboard under her as a cushion. I went over during a break and we reminisced about how my father used to feed the squirrels with walnuts from his hand. He would squat down in an seemingly impossible configuration with his knees high and his bottom low rhythmically bouncing while he would smack the walnuts (or filberts) together announcing his arrival.
Initially cautious, the squirrels took to my father (and his nuts) quickly. But they soon came to expect his attentions on a more frequent basis. If they perceived he was late they would come to the house and congregate on the stoop chastising my father that he wanting. And in a Pavlovian manner he would respond.
My mother and laughed. I handed her an acorn and went back to work.