This weekend an old friend who grew up in the same Indiana hometown that I did, wrote a love letter to our town. It’s about growing up there and the splendor of Autumn in Indiana. He shared it on his Facebook page and tagged many of us from there. There are now many wonderful comments from us sharing our own memories or just thanking him. I decided it needed to be shared with a larger audience. Enjoy!
Ode to Autumn - Reflections on the Autumns of my Childhood
By Terry Douglas
Autumn is my very favourite season and October is my very favourite month...and it unfortunately has already run its course for yet another year after blowing by at what seemed like warp speed…as it so often does. As Kurt Vonnegut repeatedly punctuated in 'Slaughterhouse-Five'… “So it goes.”
Anyway, a recent Roger Ebert journal essay about his autumnal remembrances got me a-reflectin’ on some of my own memories of autumns gone by, specifically from childhood.
The little town that I grew up in, Waldron, Indiana, U.S.A., was a great fall town. Located about 30 miles southeast of Indianapolis, it's really more of a hamlet or village than a town, or at least that's how I've always thought of it. The town's heyday has long since passed – gone with the disappearance of the old Interurban railway that connected it to Indianapolis and neighboring towns; gone with the significance of the ‘big railroad’ that ran straight through the middle of town - the New York Central line between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. As far as I know, not too much has changed from the way things were during my childhood and formative years…although the feeling just wouldn’t be the same somehow. The ballpark demographics: Around 800 residents, a post office, a volunteer fire department, an elementary school, a junior-senior high school, a couple of churches, and one of each of the most essential of establishments – a water company, a telephone company, a natural gas company, a small food market, a gas station, a café, a barber shop (maybe still there), a hair salon (or two), a boutique or curiosity shop (or two)…and that’s probably about it. I imagine that the familiar maple trees and old houses still line many of the short streets, especially the town’s two main bisecting streets – Washington and Main Streets.
For me, the Autumn was always when the town of Waldron was at its most beautiful, which in large part could be attributed to those aforementioned trees with their big orange, red, yellow, and brown leaves, which eventually and steadily floated and fluttered down from the limbs until they finally covered the ground and streets with their multi-coloured carpet. This romantic perspective is very much akin to the way the main character (as a grown-up narrator voiced by Woody Allen) describes how he remembers his boyhood neighbourhood at its most beautiful in the movie “Radio Days” – leaf-strewn, rain-swept, autumn-like. This sequence has always hit the spot with me and I completely relate to it.
Of course, Halloween was the pinnacle of the fall season and there couldn’t have been too many better settings for it in my view. This was the time each year when I most enjoyed my hometown…and when I am sometimes prone to missing it even now. It was during this time that one could imagine that the town had come to life out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Here was pure Americana in action and on display. The town’s size and atmosphere were absolutely perfect for hordes of ‘Trick-or-Treaters’, some brought in from surrounding towns by their parents - precise processions of cute and creepy costume-clad adventurers making their way through the decorated maze of the town collecting goodies and cheer. Freshly carved pumpkins were on nearly every porch, haystacks on some. The fresh smell of the air filled lungs and the crispness of the breeze prickled faces. When the night sky was clear, a star-filled canopy covered the scene from horizon to horizon with a bright shining moon illuminating the small town charms. There were even some notoriously ‘real’ haunted (or at the very least, spooky) spots to explore and investigate…if you knew where to look. And if you didn’t…or if you just didn’t have the heart for that kind of Halloween activity, then there were always plenty of horror movies waiting for you on television, hosted by Sammy Terry, a ghoul I grew up with and one of the greatest local television horror film hosts ever in my view.
Additionally vivid childhood memory snapshots from Waldron autumns include: School and church Fall Festivals, eating my mother’s chili (a fall and winter delicacy), walking and riding my bike(s) around town, playing basketball, baseball, &/or (American-style) football with friends, and the smell of burning leaves permeating the air.
I have special adult memories of the autumn as well as I have enjoyed my favourite season in a variety of locales and ways, and I continue to enjoy the autumn wherever I am and however I'm spending it…but of course the feelings of nostalgia from times of complete freedom will always seem magical, perhaps because they are so far removed from the realities and responsibilities of adulthood.
These days fall is the season when I feel the most fresh and at my best, with spring coming in as a close second. If it were up to me it would be autumn for…oh, at least 300 days of the year.”
ⓒ 2009 by Terry Douglas