Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Autumn Leaves

This is the time of year when, as a kid in Cleveland, the leaves fell and their fires burned. I don't know where autumn leaves are still burned in America - definitely not in Southern California.

Leaves were raked from front yards and piled into mounds at the curb. Before they were torched, however, the second most fun for us kids was to run smashing into the loose piles, flopping onto their softness or kicking them about madly.The first most fun, of course, was watching them burn, especially at night, leafy sparks floating skyward.

We are generally wiser now, about fire hazard and pollution, so this little delight is no longer available to my children and grandchildren. They don't even have a memory of the glow and the smell of burning leaves. But they do have the Internet and iPods, which I didn't at their ages.

But for many an autumn I had a special fiery treat. My Uncle Edgar would come to town from his home in rural Indiana and stay with us for a few months. He had a standing offer from the Kroehler Furniture to work in their Cleveland factory designing, carving and assembling custom pieces. For most of the year, Uncle Edgar was a drunk, usually bad, sometimes even violent; but he would go on the wagon and show up at Kroehler's when his mother and older brother needed his financial assistance.

The fiery treat was a trick he showed me with a page from the daily paper. He would spread it out and then bring the four corners together, tie them into a knot and snap the paper upward to catch the air and create a balloon shape. He would then place the paper balloon knot down, and ignite the knot with a match. The gas created by the burning knot would lift the balloon into the air. As the fiery spectacle lifted up above the house tops and trees, the entire paper balloon would burn and its shape became visible in an outline of sparks. Soon that shape would disintegrate and the sparks would scatter and float on the breeze. I think the sparks cooled and died before they could cause any structural harm, but I can't say that for sure. Edgar also floated off on a breeze. He stopped coming to Cleveland and Kroehler's and seemed to drop out of sight.

After a while, we heard that he had gone sober, found religion and a lady friend and became an itinerant preacher along the Indiana river bottoms. I never saw my uncle again, but Jack helped me pay Edgar a little homage by naming my character after him in his script for
Ride in the Whirlwind.


At October 05, 2006 6:06 AM, Anonymous M.E.. said...

Lovely memory.. I still can smell the burning leaves from time to time, and the images, from a time gone by, pass thru my mind..
I don't really remember uncle Edgar, or the paper balloon.. Perhaps it was before I was born?

At October 05, 2006 10:25 AM, Blogger BJMe said...

The last time Uncle Edgar stayed with us was at the house on 98th Street. We got into an argument one day and, smart-mouted squirt that I was, I called him a sonuvabith. This really set him off as he considered it a serious defamation of his sweet mother, our Grandma Canine. For whatever reason, he never returned to Cleveland, or our house, again.

I continued to ignite the paper balloon for a while, but when we moved to 99th Street there may have been too many trees to allow good rise. Or maybe I just grew up a little.


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