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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

I have previously mentioned the young girls with rakes and faces but no names.

They had names then, of course, and friends and schoolbooks and favorite candy bars and maybe posters on the wall.

But they passed through the history of Hope Street — this history of Hope Street, anyway — without anyone writing their names down. They do not seem to have made it onto my grandpa’s calendar, for instance.

Here at my computer in the autumn of 2016 they are only images on a thumbdrive of my grandpa’s old photos … one-dimensional children in short-sleeved T-shirts in the tall fall grass, doing a neighborly favor.

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(Did they shiver and complain about their lot in life? No. Most likely they were quite comfortable.)

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I imagine they were my grandparents’ next-door neighbors, possibly even from the light-colored house in the rear of the photo above. (The folks on the other side of my grandparents had a son my dad’s age.)

If I had a 1975 city directory at my fingertips, I could probably find out their names, or their parents’, quickly enough.

I also imagine their house disappeared in the same condominium sweep that tore down my grandparents’. I wonder if they have been back to Hope Street lately, or if there is nothing for them there.

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If you’re reading this post, you already know the backstory. My grandfather suffered a heart attack in 1971 that required him to scale back his household activities as much as possible.

The house at 1107 Hope Street had a good-sized back yard and a lot of trees. Raking all those leaves would have been one of those jobs my grandpa looked to outsource, either to professional yardsmiths or neighborhood urchins.

How many years of help did my grandpa get from the girls next door? Maybe not many. The older one, especially, looks to be approaching the age where she can invent plausible other things to do besides squatting in the grass to clean up somebody else’s yard.

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Of course I wonder where they are now, and what they are doing. It is that time of year, after all.

Perhaps they have kids who are bracing to spend the coming weekends with rakes in their hands (though some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the girls in these photos are probably empty-nesters already. Time does fly.)

Perhaps they have grown into the sort of people who refuse to dirty their hands with leaves, and hire yard companies to do the work. “I’ve bagged enough leaves for one lifetime,” they sniff.

Or maybe, in a different lawn with different trees in a different state, they are still at it. Perhaps they even enjoy it. Maybe, for reasons they can’t quite remember, it reminds them of good deeds and hard work well-appreciated.

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Still working on the project I teased last week. Should be next Monday. For now …

The Sixties are running out, at least in calendar terms.

And this week, we join my grandfather as — like a stoned hippie staring at his hand against the backdrop of the starry sky — he contemplates a confluence of the extraterrestrial and the deeply rooted.

November 14 and 15, 1969. The Mets are the champions of the world; the Yankees are just one of those other teams wondering how they did it.

November 14 and 15, 1969. The Mets are the champions of the world; the Yankees are just one of those other teams wondering how they did it.

I’ve written about my grandpa’s fascination with the U.S. space program, here and here and here and here, and maybe even elsewhere. As a patriotic American, he appreciated his country’s steps into uncharted territory; as an amateur gearhead and tinkerer, he was interested in the science it took to make space journeys happen.

Apollo 11, in July 1969, was the landmark mission that brought man to the moon for the first time. My grandfather, like many Americans, was riveted to the journey. So it’s no surprise that he would have made it a priority to track the follow-up mission and see what new frontiers would be broken this time around.

The Apollo 12 rocket was hit by lightning during liftoff — not once but twice, according to Wikipedia — which caused a few technical challenges, but did not impair the mission in the grand scheme of things. This must have been publicly disclosed as it happened, since my grandfather made wordless reference to it on his calendar entry.

(According to Wiki, the lightning strikes raised concern in Houston whether the return vehicle’s parachutes would deploy as designed. Rather than worry the astronauts, NASA kept their worries to themselves for the length of the mission. Everything worked out fine in the end.)

Apparently there was not much to report space-wise on Nov. 15, with the astronauts still four days away from landing on the moon.

So, my grandpa turned his attention from the cosmos to his backyard and got his hands dirty tackling a bunch of quintessentially mid-November chores — raking up leaves, winterizing the mower, and either putting up or taking down the storm sash.

(I am not sure exactly what the “storm sash” was, but it sounds like something seasonal. Not sure what my grandpa had to do to his cellar door, either. But whatever it was, it didn’t get done on Nov. 15.)

In the end, the Apollo 12 mission went so well as to be largely forgettable in retrospect.

In one of the mission’s more memorable details, the wrist “cuff checklists” worn by astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad were spiced up by their NASA colleagues with Snoopy-style cartoons and pictures of Playboy playmates (yes, the latter link is NSFW.)

This suggests a certain confidence, comfort and chumminess that was largely borne out by Apollo 12’s success.

The near-disaster of Apollo 13 must have refocused everyone at NASA and knocked the jokes out of the playbook. But in November 1969, that was still five months away and unforeseen, and the business of space was running as smoothly as the business of General Motors.

All of which no doubt came as welcome news to my grandpa, back in Connecticut tending to the health of his own little patch of earth.

Hopefully he got all the leaves off the ground on the 15th. Because, by the time the astronauts splashed down on Nov. 24, a different earthly concern — snow — had entered the equation.

November 24, 1969.

November 24, 1969.

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Another trip through the warmth.

Another season of growth and wonder.

Another graceful, spiraling dance ending in forgotten stillness.

Am I writing about the lifespan of a leaf?

Maybe.

September 22, 1972.

September 22, 1972. I do not exist yet, but I will in roughly two weeks.

I am reaching for new things to say about autumn but it all feels like cliche.

Life, death, the onslaught of cold, the encroachment of darkness, the crispness in the air, the last brilliant flames of foliage — you don’t need me to lead you through the drill.

My grandpa has more nuance to offer on the subject than I do.

Look at the shading on his leaf, and the pattern it traces through the air. Another instance where a picture is worth a thousand words.

Look also at the equinoctial temperature that complicated year — a high of 78, and a quite temperate low of 60. Short-sleeve weather, not flannel.

Another reminder that life is not as clear-cut as we sometimes make it, and that the calendar doesn’t really get the final say. When does summer really end and fall begin? How about youth and middle age? Middle age and old?

(David Crosby, who was in some position to know, once suggested that what people thought of as “the Sixties” actually lasted from 1965 to 1975. I’m not sure what Crosby was doing in September 1972, but I bet it was potent.)

A more complicated subject than it seems, autumn … and I am coming up blank trying to find interesting things to say about its arrival.

I look forward to inhaling its essence for the next couple of months, anyway.

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With apologies to William H. Blumenau, and perhaps to Robert Lowell as well, and to anyone from whom I have unconsciously cribbed a turn of phrase.

Perhaps by the back picket-fence
that edges the downslope untended;

or by the garage,
a dour shed with door-windows
no eyes peer through;

or by the bulkhead,
flat gray and sloped
above the dank steps downward;

the first leaf swirls and lands.

Newly fifty-six,
my grandfather serves
as tenant-king and head of household.
The leaf is his responsibility,
one more duty on the flannel-clad back
that has no chance to falter.
His are Finance, and Administration,
and Transportation,
and Buildings and Grounds.

Fifty-six years old.
The sign-posts change and warp.
One child engaged, the other off at school;
the school-bus’ backfire bark is alien,
its yellow burns the eye.

The wheels fall off dynasties.
The Yankees rock and founder in tenth place;
eight thousands fill the Stadium.
Marchers throng in Washington,
the ghettos heave and erupt,
solid ground buckles
like a grave-shroud under weight,
a dank step downward.

Flash forward to my own autumns —
old jeans and cold cider,
back-to-school crushes,
cross-country races
on pace against infinity,
crisp gasping breaths
in the austere sun.
Autumn is the time of rebirth.
Have I got it backwards?

The slight back under flannel
has a steel core
tested by responsibility,
by the loss of a father too soon,
by Depression with its wrench and want.

Those who grow up
on a swaying deck
inherit the gift of balance.

Change and challenge endure.
Old enough to know,
young enough to respond,
my grandfather braces for turbulence
and looks forward.

Then, as now, the poets of the young
declare that times are changing.
Their fathers ask drily
what tipped them off.

Perhaps by the fence,
perhaps by the garage,
perhaps by the bulkhead,
perhaps orange or red or yellow,
the first leaf’s spark catches the eye,
a veined telegram of change:
“New seasons are coming.
Adapt or die.”

My grandfather does not stoop to receive it.
He’s already heard.

Sept. 23, 1966

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