Autumn crept silently through the front fields and up to the old house, each September without warning. It seemed as though one day it was hot and sunny and green in our yard, and the air was warm, as we ran up and down chasing the ball, and chasing each other. Then one day, sometimes the very next day, the morning air was so cool that we had to wear jackets to school, as though Mother Nature had turned off the heat over night.
Maybe we just hadn’t noticed the small spattering of gold and orange, on the leaves on the big maple tree, closest to the Third Line. I suppose we could recall some flocks of geese honking, and flying over the house, in the past couple of weeks, but we thought nothing of it at the time.
After all, it was still hot outside, and our trees were wearing their summer greens. Both the days and evenings were much quieter now, so we knew that meant that many of our songbirds had left for the season. We could see the branches of the trees in the orchard behind the house were drooping with the weight of the apples, as they hung close to the ground.
Arlene Stafford in the apple orchard, behind the Stafford house, 1964
The Perth Fair was over for another year, and we had already been back to Glen Tay School for a week, catching up with our friends, and finding out what they’d done all summer. Mrs. Conboy had made the rounds in the classroom, and handed out the pale blue Hilroy notebooks, and packs of brand new Laurentian coloured pencils.
Glen Tay Public School, Bathurst Township (Tay Valley Township) Lanark County
We were getting used to the long bus ride to school again, and rediscovered the fun of bouncing up and down in the back seat, and going over the ‘good’ bumps on Bowes’ sideroad. It was time once again to pick out a new book or two, from the monthly order form from Scholastic book club. Mrs. Conboy circulated around the classroom, checking off how many hot dogs we wanted for Wednesday’s Hot Dog Day, and if we would be ordering a half pint of milk for an extra ten cents, to wash it all down.
Mrs. Dencie (Tryon) Conboy, 1922-2013 (former teacher at Glen Tay Public School)
We noticed that the floral arrangements had been changed at Calvin Church, from bright, summer flowers, to an orange and brown fall display.
Cavanagh’s store Calvin United Church
Popplewell’s had a pumpkin sitting on their front step when we drove by, on our way to Cavanagh’s store, and the cattails in the swamp, back near the railroad tracks, were beginning to turn from their rich summer brown, to their autumn white. Some of the flowers in our yard were turning brown, and drooping, and we could hear the echoes of rifles being fired in the distance, as hunting season began.
Bit by bit, the late summer showed signs of change, one at a time, each one adding its two-cent’s worth, until one day, we looked up in surprise, and it was fall. I never understood how it seemed to sneak right by us like that, and I often wondered if autumn arrived in the middle of the night, afraid to compete with summer’s glory at mid-day. Maybe autumn didn’t want us to see it turning our beautiful flowers brown, or causing all of the leaves to fall off of the maple trees, or stealing our daylight hours away from us a minute or two at a time.
Some of my friends were glad that fall had arrived, and said that the summer was too hot, and they looked forward to the cooler weather. They couldn’t wait for Hallowe’en, and the first snowfall, and skating, and hockey, and making snow angels.
Instead, I was sad to see the summer fade, and then vanish completely, greens turning to oranges, then browns, carefree days of playing in the sun changing to days and nights bundled up in coats and mittens, shivering at the end of the lane, waiting for the school bus to arrive, in the dark, cold early mornings.
Seeing summer depart was like watching a jolly friend leaving through the front door, packing up its bright colours, and its warm sunshine, in a big sack, and heading up the Third Line, without a backwards glance. “Wait for me!”, I’d think to myself, as I watched it head up the road. It would be three long seasons before it returned, and my heart would be heavy as I longed for its arrival, back to our yard once again.
‘Summer Slips Away Down the Road’, an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”, ISBN 978-0-9877026-30, available in local book stores, and online.