Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Raking Leaves

The weather on the East Coast was unseasonably beautiful this weekend. It was sunny and warm both on Saturday and Sunday. It afforded me an opportunity to get the leaves off my yard and into a pile in the woods. My lot is 1.1 acres, with woods separating my house from the one behind me. There's a mountain of leaves taller than me in those woods tonight. It grew one tarp load at a time over the course of two days.

I always think of my father when I rake leaves. Some kids went to ball games with their dad; I raked leaves with mine.

He was an Irish immigrant who came to this country with the equivalent of a high school education. He got a job working for the water company in town. He was a member of the crew that worked to maintain the system of pipes and valves buried under the roads. They led from the treatment plants situated next to the reservoirs to the metered 1" diameter copper pipes that were the "last mile" into each and every house in town. He knew every pipe, both size and material, every valve in the system, because he had either put them in place or repaired them at one time or another. He had an unmatched encyclopedic knowledge of roads in town. He could associate each one with one job or another: "We had an 8 inch main break on Sinoway Road last night."

It was a good union job, but with six kids at home he didn't mind hustling for a few extra bucks. So on Saturdays he would go out and do yard work for people. He had regular customers that would have him cut the grass in the summer and rake the leaves in the fall. It meant getting up early on Saturday mornings and spending the day going from house to house. The last stop was always my grandmother's.

I was his eldest son. By my best recollection I was nine or ten years old the first time I went with him on a Saturday morning. I was less than useless. I didn't have the strength or stamina to help much in the beginning, but young legs can serve a purpose when you don't want to walk back to get a tool. He was easing me into the idea of helping.

As I became capable of contributing more, I remember going more frequently. I can't recall anymore how regular I was about the task. I'm sure that my faithfulness fell short. But I do remember going on more than a haphazard basis. I knew the names of all the customers, and they knew me. I can still point out the houses that haven't fallen victim to time and been knocked down to make way for McMansions.

These were quiet trips. We'd both get up early on Saturday mornings, load the appropriate tools into the car, and go on our appointed rounds. We didn't get coffee or chat a lot. He would thank me for helping, but whatever checks exchanged hands went into his pocket. I never questioned the arrangement. It was understood that it was my duty to help.

My father was very methodical and meticulous about raking leaves. He always had a large tarp that we'd spread out on a part of the lawn that was covered with leaves. "Don't rake onto a piece that you've already cleaned," he'd tell me. He would start in one corner and work in one direction, sweeping the area until there wasn't a leaf to be seen. He bought a gas-powered blower, the first one that I'd ever seen, that would speed the work and spare our hands the raking until we had a pile worthy of pushing into the tarp to be carried away.

After I went to college I didn't join him on Saturdays anymore. It's been too long - I can't pinpoint when he gave it up. Perhaps it was after my grandmother passed away. I never asked if the task fell to either of my younger brothers when I dropped the torch. I don't remember any of them joining us on Perryridge Road.

As I look back on it now, I like to think that I was chosen to go because I had the temperament for it. Maybe he liked doing it with me as much as I was proud to be chosen by him. It was something that I did with my father that no one else did.

Some kids went to ball games with their dad; I raked leaves with mine.

I still carry that experience with me to this day. I rake leaves the way he taught me. He would have been happy with my handiwork this weekend. At the end of a day of work - the sky red from the setting sun; the chilled air reminding me that it's the waning of another year; the dead silence at the end of a late autumn day - I think of my father.

No comments: