The falling leaves drift by the window…

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold…

Johnny Mercer, 1950

autumn leaves

In the fall a young man’s fancy turns to cheerleaders and hunting, but to an old man, the season is filled with nostalgia. Every time I hear Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole sing Autumn Leaves, I’m taken back to mornings filled with migrating ducks, and evenings in brightly lit football stadiums. In my mind’s eye, I see mourning doves swooping over a tree line, and marching bands playing fight songs. Yes, I still love football and to skip to my thoughts on Week One, click here.

There are few sensory sensations more compelling than the smell of leaves burning on an autumn evening. Yes Virginia, people actually burned leaves in the street without a permit in those pre-EPA days, and I don’t remember anyone suffering as a result. We also chased the DDT truck all summer, so what could a little leaf smoke do?

I started elementary school in the fall of 1945, and in Ruleville, Mississippi everyone heated their homes with coal. I can remember Billy Story and me walking to school, with the smell of burning coal filling the air. The aroma of coal smoke not only smelled good, but since my grandfather owned the local Ice plant and coal yard, it also bode well for his business.

Another reason I’ve always loved fall is that by late September, the crops were laid by, so all of my grandfather’s farmer buddies were free to go hunting, and I was allowed to come along. One morning in 1946, we had just driven up on the levee after duck hunting at the Benoit Hunting Club. My grandfather stopped the truck and pointed across the Mississippi River to the Louisiana side and asked,

“What do you see just over on the other bank?”

I looked closely, and I told him I could see cranes and other construction equipment. A pensive looked came over his face and he said,

“That’s a natural gas pipeline, and by this time next year gas will begin to replace coal. That, coupled with the fact that GE and Westinghouse are building refrigerators rather than B-17s, means the end of the ice and coal business.”

Four months later he sold the ice plant and reinvested the proceeds into a couple of hundred acres of prime Sunflower cotton land. The smell of coal smoke had already begun to fade from the crisp fall air.

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