Always did like Autumn……. still
do. The nip in the air, colorful leaves floating to the ground---all
seem to make me remember and reflect about the years. It’s
Fall now as I write this.
Me and the dog (Storm) are preparing to take our last ritual backyard
outing before joining Mrs. R. for the late news in bed. Opening
the back door, I am engulfed in the aromatic smell of neighborhood
fireplaces. As Storm takes off to survey his favorite spots in the
yard, there on the back porch I am drifting back to lazy Autumn
afternoons on my old Newark streets, a time today’s kids will
That fireplace smell always triggers the memories, almost like
the smell of roasting chestnuts that you may remember from high
school football games, street vendors, or maybe at Thanksgiving.
That smell most closely resembles the Autumn aromas I remember,
when folks burned all those dry, crispy leaves, usually in the gutters
in front of their homes. Can’t do that now because of the
air pollution laws and ordinances, and I think we are poorer for
Walking home from school, I could hear and see folks raking leaves
into big piles. Usually, pipe-smoking, retired men of the neighborhood
undertook this task. From the big pile of leaves, a small pile was
separated, lit afire and watched closely. As the small pile was
consumed, more leaves from the big pile were added to keep the smoldering
mass alive. It was an art of the season. Folks didn’t just
set a big pile of leaves ablaze and walk away. It was carefully
monitored. A garden hose was usually nearby to prevent a quick flare-up,
and used to douse the small fire after it was about done.
Most folks also had a trash barrel in their yards then too, often
a 55 gallon drum that had been pierced a number of time at the base
to allow air to enter so lumber scraps, cardboard, paper waste,
leaves, and other yard waste could be burned. Set up off the ground
on several sturdy bricks, the old family trash burner was the last
link in the recycling of waste. If there were freshly washed clothes
on the neighborhood clotheslines (there is something you don’t
see much today), folks were courteous and didn’t burn trash
that might soil the newly cleaned clothes. A little neighborhood
courtesy went a long way.
I vividly remember playing football in the street after school,
a wispy haze of blue smoke permeating the trees and colorful clinging
leaves. The last rays of the sun’s fading afternoon warmth
created a lovely series of light rays through the lazy smoke. That
will always be Autumn for me. As the sun dipped low, we usually
crowded around the smoldering leaves to get our hands warm so we
could continue to play ball. You didn’t worry about air pollution
Can you remember when they used to burn the meadows back then?
You could look all the way down Bloomfield Avenue and see the black
smoke in a long line as they control burned sections of the dried
meadow grasses and vegetation.
Many old time gardeners took the ashes from the burned leaves
in the street and added them to garden and flowerbeds to increase
their fertilizer content. In spite of all the recycling hoopla we
hear today, the old-timers were quite resourceful and frugal. They
were not ignorant of the lessons of nature.
The lovely and fragrant custom of burning leaves had a purpose,
and tradition. My wife remembers ice-skating to the smell of wood
and leave fires, not far from where we now live in her childhood
home in East Orange; all of 3 miles from where I grew up in Newark.
I didn’t stray far after high school and college; and I like
it that way.
This time of year I have an urge to light a small pile of leaves
in my backyard and remember those Newark afternoons. It was so easy
then….. play ball after school, have a nice dinner with the
whole family, do your homework, and watch some TV. What a safe and
secure life, and what memories I have of that warm loving home and
my old Newark neighborhood.
Oh, I see Storm is done with his evening romp among the wilds
of the backyard, time to close the house up, turn down the thermostat,
and hop under the quilt. Storm will snuggle in between Mrs. R and
me. We’ll wake up in a few hours to the comforting sound of
steam radiator valves popping and hissing, just like when I was
growing up. Nothing like it.
I’ll open my back door again and see my backyard ablaze
with red and yellow maple trees. The front of our house is lined
with tall, aristocratic 70-foot oaks, golden brown—all the
way down the street. They don’t make streets like this anymore,
or houses either.
You have got to love this time of year.
I have his quote hanging in my office……”If you
are uncertain about change, think of the beauty of Autumn.”
Works for me!