By Jack McCall

I remember a short poem from my youth that went something like this:

“Spring has sprung

Fall has fell

Now it’s winter…”

I choose to forgo the last stanza. I can, however, tell you for certain that fall has, indeed, fell. A cold front breezed through last week. One day the thermometer registered 94 degrees and the next day it topped out in the mid-70s. Suddenly it felt like fall. Officially, fall began on Sept. 22. This year it seems things are right on schedule.

Fall has a way of announcing its arrival like no other season. Its signs are more subtle than even the coming of the spring. Sometimes I sense its coming in a slight change in the air. At other times I hear a different sound when the wind stirs the leaves on the trees. And then, there are the birds. They begin to gather, in small groups at first. Then their numbers begin to grow. I always smile at the first hints of fall.

Across the Miles
Jack McCall

Fall’s arrival always floods my mind with boyhood memories. Having had the privilege of growing up on a working farm, I consider it to be one of my greatest assets. Harvest time was especially meaningful to me. There is something magical about harvest time. You might call it the payoff – a time when you savor the fruit of your labor.

The smells and the colors and the feelings experienced in falls of the past revisit me each year. It borders on intoxicating.

Once again I smell the feed barn filled to the tin roof with summer hay, and I gaze on cornfields turning a color that can only speak of harvest time. And I seek out tobacco barns, where the smell of leaves curing golden fills the fall air.

Gathering corn was one of my favorite jobs in the fall. That’s because, in doing so, I got to drive the farm tractor. A cornfield provides a wonderful setting for a boy to learn to drive. There is not a lot you can tear up in a cornfield.  Besides, pulling a wagon forward calls for the lowest gear.

My job was picking up the down (downed) row. Before we started through the field gathering corn, my father had pulled the down row, that being the two rows of corn that the tractor and wagon would run over. As he pulled the corn from the stalks, he pitched it in small piles in the center of the two rows being pulled. When the tractor and wagon moved through the corn field, the two rows of corn would be “downed” but the piles of corn would be straddled by the tractor and wagon.

My father and our neighbor, Thomas Denton, gathered four rows on each side of the wagon as we passed through the cornfield. I kept the tractor pulled up and the down row picked up. One trip through the cornfield netted 10 rows of corn gathered.

I remember years when my father planted pumpkins right along with the corn. One cornfield we called the spring bottom was filled with pumpkins. When we turned the hogs in to clean up the corn, you have never seen such a sight. Of course, we had to bust (burst) the pumpkins so the hogs could eat them.

Now that is a contented sight: a hog, his mouth stained pumpkin orange, munching on fresh pumpkin.

In some years we unloaded the first wagonload of ear corn right over into the hog lot. Talk about a pile of corn!  That’s another sight to behold: a bunch of hogs standing on their heads trying to eat their way to the bottom of a pile of corn. I know the smell of hogs is legendary, but the smell of hogs eating a pile of corn out in an open lot is unique to the farm and the fall. I’ll use that word again – intoxicating!

As I grew older my younger brothers took their turns at learning to drive the tractor in the cornfield and pick up the down row. I graduated to gathering corn. In doing so I learned why someone came up with the idea of Corn Husker’s Lotion. Man, that corn can be hard on your hands. Grasping an ear of corn at its based with one hand and twisting it off the stalk with the other hand is demanding work. It makes for dried-out, worn-out hands.

There is something special about the feel of a big, full ear of corn wrapped tightly in its own shucks.

May the coming of this fall flood your mind with the best of memories.