|Let’s face it. We’ve turned the seasonal corner. A local weatherman pointed this out last night by saying goodbye to Indian Summer. Is that what it was? I know there were a few really glorious days last week, lots of sun, and the unmistakable sweet, almost sad, smell of autumn in the air, followed by this morning’s unmistakable chill of approaching winter.
As a kid, I always loved November. It meant the start of the Holiday season and the promise of the joys of sledding and ice skating. My father, true to his military fashion, started getting the “fort” winterized. This meant, taking down all the summer awnings and putting up storm windows and shutters. We, my younger brother and I, were the troopers pressed into duty. Our house/fort was always a cavalry outpost, because that’s where Father started his career. Incidentally, we always called him Pa, in the manner of the Old West, again a la Fort Leavenworth, where he first had his boots and saddle.
Once the doors and windows were secure against attack of the elements, it was march outside with rakes held like rifles to clear away every leaf that had the gall to fall on the parade ground. We actually enjoyed this detail because Pa would recite Kipling’s Barrack Room Ballads in a voice that could carry a mile. Since Kipling’s poems were almost all iambic pentameter, they provided a good tempo for raking. Everything ended up in four piles at the far end of the property, a good 1/2 mile from the fort and the neighbor’s houses.
After a time out for an exercise detail, (jumping in the piles of leaves), fires were set, on after the other, accompanied by singing, (mostly Pa doing opera arias) and drinking mugs of cider. We weren’t allowed to return to barracks until every fire was safely put out, hosed down, of course, by the commanding officer.
We were spared the duty of converting the interior of the house. Drapes were put in place; the sheer, lacey curtains of summer that I loved were taken down and put away. Summer chintz slipcovers were taken off the furniture, summer carpets rolled up and winter Orientals put down.
While this was going on, my brother and I were dispatched to the attic for sleds and skates. We were ordered to get them ready for winter action. The wooden sled bodies had to be shined, as did the steel runners. The skate boots had to be cleaned and polished, as did the blades. Later, when the snow was deep enough, (the parade ground grass was heavily guarded and protected by the General), the sleds received their special treatment of runners rubbed with bacon to help them go as fast as a race car. The back yard was a long, not too steep, hill, which was our private sledding spot. The ride down was great. The pull back up was hard work, especially after a couple of hours of going down and up. By the end of winter we had legs like draft horses, with lungs and hearts to match.
In later life, much of the November activity was the same, once we left California and settled in the East. There were storm windows, leaves to rake, and snow. The sleds were plastic with no need for bacon grease, but the cross country skis had to be waxed. This year, the only activity to ready my “fort” is pulling storm windows down into place. Pa would not approve.