Raking leaves was always fun for me. A New Englander through and through, this seasonal task was never forced on me. What's more, I was keen on doing it from a very young age, too.
And no, it wasn't for the jump- into-the-pile moment. That always seemed to defeat the whole purpose of it. That's not to say I didn't do it a few times, or that I didn't enjoy watching my children do it, but there wasn't a single time where afterwards I didn't feel as if it was pointless, plus it set me back a bit.
Think about it: What joy is there actually in jumping into a huge pile of bug-covered, dirty, itchy leaves? The jump itself is fun. Nothing else. Not the landing. Not the brushing debris off afterwards. Not the cream application before bedtime that night. I doubt anyone would disagree, even a 9-year-old.
While the rake market has boomed in the decades since my youth (admittedly a sentence I never thought I'd write), I still have the original rake my father once wielded. Not unlike handing over the keys to a car on my 16th birthday or the hammer his father had shown him how to drive a nail into a wall with, my father bestowed it upon me one sunny November afternoon.
"It's yours now," he said, only then to sit on a lawn chair in the driveway, take his shirt off, and retrieve cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil from the garage and pivot to catch some rays. This is a true story. Were that to happen today he'd have gone viral and become a sensation. But back in 1980 I just laughed at his dedication to tanning and went forth with that rake like it was a treasured sword in my family for centuries.
As I grew older, and after buying my first home, other rakes were purchased along the away. With the advent of bagging our leaves to be placed curbside and eco-friendly, having two rakes and using them as extensions of one's arms is easily the most efficient way for someone doing the chore solo. But each one appeared to max out at two autumns. They'd snap, crack, lose their teeth; all while this now-60-year-old wooden one with rusted prongs remained intact and ferocious.
I kept one halved rake for my then-little son to help out with the raking. Incidentally, he viewed leaping into a pile of his work completely differently than his dad - it was joyous a thing to do. Especially being able to then walk away from, leaves flailing in the fall air left for me to rake into a pile for a second time.
Now, of course, he is 14 and the jumping into the pile of leaves thrill is gone. For two years, tops. Maybe even just one.
We each have a rake and he lunges for my father's rake often, knowing full well that the time has not come. Yet. That his uber-expensive, fiberglass model - which may or may not come with a water bottle - is the one he is to continue using until further notice. This is the stuff of rite of passage after all.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, while I sincerely have always enjoyed raking leaves, I enjoyed drives to take in the picture-perfect foliage we are afforded 'round these parts far more during my childhood, and still do to this very day.
The I-95 drive, in particular, from my Morris Cove home out to Branford, or the Guilford Fair, or even all the way to Westerly, R.I., is still a jaw-dropper come late September-early October.
I can remember sitting in the back of my father's Ford Falcon, a prisoner to the plumes of smoke coming off his Lucky Strike and my mother's Virginia Slim, and the Sinatra 8-track that was constantly in rotation providing the soundtrack. I took in the oranges, the yellows, the reds - leaves so big and bursting with color it was hard to think of the trees being laid bare in a week or two.
But fall they would. (Get it?) And as such fall is my favorite season of them all.
But this year, thanks to the late-August storm that decimated many of the trees in Connecticut, particularly the town I now call home - Branford - I'm not entirely certain I will be as enraptured by raking leaves as I usually am. The clean-up in front of my house, as well as on my block and in many towns in the state, continues. It's been as frustrating as it has been exhausting, my son and me dragging one branch after another to the curb for pick-up by parks and rec.
And so it will be this fall 2020 my son will get his hands on Grandpa's rake. It will be ceremonial. I'll go over the top, and he'll laugh at some of it but lose interest in my theatrics much more quickly than he used to. And I doubt he'll even use the thing this year.
So it goes with rites of passage.