Why fall is so special

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It all seems to happen overnight. Usually the first thing I notice is the sweet smell of a freshly plowed peanut field. It is a smell that is so ingrained in my past that even 25 years after I last worked in the industry it quickly brings back a flood of memories.

The same day I felt a cool breeze blow across my skin. The days were still hot, but the gentle wind gave me just a hint of things to come. Dog days and the hot sticky air that accompanies them were on their way out.

I saw my first red leaves on the trees followed within days of the leaves drifting down across my lawn.

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I could hear the high school band practicing from several blocks away signaling that football season was here. My nightly jump into the pool was suddenly cooler as the water seemed to drop quickly in temperature.

Fall is here. Each year I wonder if this isn’t my favorite time of year. Of course, I say that at the first hint of spring. But then, I like summer at the lake and a fire in the winter. That is part of the beauty of living where there are four seasons.

As a kid I dreaded fall, because it meant going back to school. Life doesn’t get much more carefree than living in Cottonwood and spending the summer at Compass Lake.

We would water ski for hours on end. Finally, my Dad put us on a budget of two six-gallon tanks of gas per day. My brother and I made a deal with the lady at the store to charge a gallon of gas as a gallon of milk. That worked fine until the statement came at the end of the month with dozens of gallons of milk on the ticket.

The sadness of the passing of summer went quickly as we learned to enjoy all that fall would bring. The National Peanut Festival was an annual tradition beginning with the corn dogs at that one special booth where I still stand in line today.

I learned that special relationship that Southerners have with college football, despite the record 10 losses that Auburn had to Alabama while I was growing up. Then our kids came along and we loved the games all over again. It was special times to drive up to Auburn with my daughters to the games. They were more interested in the mascot, the eagle and the cheerleaders, but watch them now and you’ll know the love for college football stuck with them too.

We never were at the lake after the end of August because of peanut season. Labor Day would traditionally be our busiest day buying peanuts. The reason was simply because the children were out of school and could help on the farms.

My wife wanted a fall wedding. I said, “Then you’ll have to marry someone else.” Peanut season dominated our life during the fall.

If I ever developed a good work ethic, it was during this time. My father and grandfather expected a lot of out me. Two of my greatest memories were during peanut season while I was a teenager.

The first was when the night manager of the drying plant called in sick. I was running the drying plant during the day shift and then had to work the night shift as well. After 23 hours of checking the dryers, testing the peanuts, and pulling samples of more than 100 wagons, I finally fell asleep on a pile of peanut sacks waiting for my replacement.

Instead of a pat on the back when my grandfather came in at 6 a.m., he wanted to know what I was doing asleep. Despite my explanation that I had worked 23 hours and gotten all my work done, he quietly said that as his grandson people expected more of me. He told me it was my job to set an example. I never let him down again.

My second memory was being given the job of foreman over the “yard” when I was 15. I could crank any old truck hauling peanuts, turn a tractor on a dime, sew leather belts in the top of a warehouse, and keep all the unloading stations moving. We were the largest buying point in Alabama, and my Dad had put me in a position as a teenager to make a difference.

We would often be the last two to leave. We would tally up the day’s total before we left. He would sit on the steps to the office, and I would sit with him. I didn’t know how much he was teaching me until I had my own children. My grandfather may have been my hero, but my father was my teacher.

He taught me how to hunt and how to clean what I killed. He taught me to respect the women of the house, whether they were your wife or your daughters. He taught me that you can love your work even when it is hard. He taught me how to be compassionate and tough at the same time. He taught me that it was OK for a father to hug his son.

Fall is when I learned to be a man. Perhaps it is my favorite season of the year.