“And the days dwindle down to a precious few…September…November…”—Anderson and Weill.
On the first official day of fall (technically the autumnal equinox) this year, it was 93 degrees and as sultry as Lauren Bacall’s voice in “Rolling Fork.”
But as is so often the case in these parts, it was but a few days later that the coming season’s annual tease arrived when I opened my office door to the briskness of early morning air that seemingly annually first arrives as not the real thing, but rather as but a preview of coming attractions and always inspires a wave of nostalgia in me.
Though subtle, it was stunning in its clarity to an old small town newspaperman.
Fall is surely the crispest of the seasons and the first wisp of that which is to be fairly crackled. The arrival, or even the announcement of the soon-to-be arrival of fall is always first smelled.
It’s a scent, or rather a mixture of scents, blended smoother than the finest Tennessee sipping whiskey, that has for me always been almost as intoxicating.
Smell, the researchers tell us, is the sense most directly tied to memories, the sense which most swiftly and surely summons the return of that which was, and I was once again reminded of how many of my fonder ones are associated with the fall season.
With both the soothing lap of a wave at the shore and the never to be reached fast forward that is the speed of thought, the decks of that old man were awash with a thousand yesterdays.
To the long ago young man growing up in the metropolis of Coahoma (population 300 or so if you counted cats and dogs and weren’t too particular about town limits), fall meant riding from the fields of his father’s farm, nestled deep within the billows of a cotton laden trailer to the gin that his grandfather had helped get started.
Nothing after has ever been that soft, that snuggly comforting.
Of course, that was a different time when there still were real cotton trailers pulled by tractors on the roads of the Delta, rather than the contemporary landscape, dominated as it has been by the row after row of cotton modules, like so many bleached-out mobile home parks. One more trade-off of the aesthetic for the efficient.
To that young man, fall meant pick-up football games with the boys in town or the lesser challenge of two-hand-touch ones with his sisters and the little kid next door.
The touchdowns scored in either were sufficient to propagate the imagination only pending superstardom that a slightness of frame and sparseness of talent were never destined to allow.
To that young man, fall meant the only slightly diminished by static magic of the World Series and of his beloved Ole Miss Rebels brought to him live by a rough-around-the-edges Philco portable radio that consumed batteries with the appetite of a wide-bottomed woman on ladies night at the all-you-can-eat.
Whether it was Mickey Mantle, limping to home plate to hit a one-legged home run to clinch another one for the Yankees or the string of Johnny Vaught-schooled sprint-out Ole Miss quarterbacks completing passes to guys nicknamed “Catfish” and “Indian Bill,” the images of childhood and adolescence were etched as if in fine pewter.
And to that young man, fall meant the country celebration of Halloween. It meant not just the traditional “trick or treat,” but the bonfire in Mrs. Morgan’s back yard. It meant roasting hot dogs and marshmallows which simply could not have possibly ever tasted that good to any other group of kids, anywhere, anytime.
It meant that one small town group of rural Mississippi kids, linked by the covalent bond of approaching puberty, would linger around that fire like some never-named characters in a never written Stephen King novel, trying to scare the pants off each other with ghost stores bigger and better than the year before.
The better the story, the better the chance of walking home with your arm around the girl who lived down the street.
Or so we thought.
It was all that and more which was evoked in that millisecond of that day last month when I walked out on the porch of my office and of such things, I suspect little note is taken, outside that which might be taken by the occasional old country newspaperman, from whom such whimsical flights of fancy are likely to be expected.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.