Late Summer and early Fall were a special time for me in the late 60's. First of all, just about all of my early romances all began and ended in the Fall and this trend continued well on throughout my life. Secondly, there is something so comfortable and soothing about the late afternoon sunshine at that time of year...golden, warm and just a hint of cool breeze mixed with the coloring of the leaves. Thirdly, the sounds of rakes and the smell of burning leaves all up and down the block.
Back before leaf blowers, everyone raked and on a late Saturday afternoon as I sat in my 3rd floor attic room with my window open I could hear the rakes scratching away upon the driveways of the block. Everyone burned their leaves back then and the air was a pall of leaf smoke with its peculiar, one of a kind smell. Turn the corner onto any street late on a weekend Fall afternoon and the smell would whack your face and burn your lungs, and the smell lingers to this day.
One of the true joys of being a kid was burning leaves. The pyromaniac in all of us came to the forefront as we stood and watched the flames growing higher,engulfing more and more leaves. When the wind would switch one would become covered in a thick, white, acrid smoke....wonderful. I would buy a Remco model with my allowance money and build it, only to have it destroyed by the raging fire on the weekend. My favorite were the monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I would position them coming out of their leaf lair and then set the huge pile of leaves ablaze and slowly watch them melt and become more and more disfigured. The simple joys of a misspent youth.
The battle lines were drawn. The kids on our two blocks were about to face off n deadly combat. The weapon of choice? Big, fat ripe acorns, which fell by the ton in those days. Like everything else that seems different in childhood, there seemed to be scads more acorns than there are today. Walking down the gutter of any street one could fill a shopping bag with big, plump, pointy ended acorns complete with their caps.
The battle lines stretched the entire length of the block....behind houses and garages and fences. Either flank was lightly patrolled, the big fight would come at the center, behind my friends house. A stockade fence stood between the lines. On the enemy's side was a wide open back yard, their only approach was to cross this open space hoping to make the fence before too many were injured. On our side of the fence was a thick rhododendron forest, in some places more than 10 feet high, seemingly impenetrable. The only weak spot was a large hole in the stockade fence which their "sappers" had destroyed the night before and now the hole yawned, waiting to be breached.
The long shadows of the afternoon were beginning to take shape. Our scouts reported no movement, the flanks, still secure. It had to come today, tomorrow was Sunday and the armies would be depleted due to kids having to go to church etc..it had to be today and soon. Suddenly one of the scouts reported movement. Then all hell broke loose, a couple of dozen kids with bags of acorns made for the hole in the fence, their numbers far superior to ours. It was obvious they had received vital reinforcements from the next block over. Our only chance was to pummel them at the bottleneck jam in the fence and to hold until our flanks came in to bolster our numbers.
Our advance pickets stood to their deadly task and took effective aim and blazed away at all the kids they could single out, but were soon over run, the tide of kid-dom was irresistible. Then, they stopped. A hush lay over the field of battle. Then, over the top of the stockade came bag after shopping bag of dirt....fine, powdery dirt. When it hit the ground it flew into the air and created a dense dust fog. Through the hole in the fence the enemy poured piercing our first line of entrenchments within the jungle, the choking dust was too much to bear. We fell back to the yard and our last ditch line of over turned lawn chairs, wagons and anything else we had been able to lay our hands on. The day hung in the balance as they came screeching out of the jungle at us. Gasping for breath, they were affected same as us and in the slight lull we brought our full might to bear. Down they went in piles as the pointy missiles of doom found their mark on many a foes forehead. They scrambled back, tried to regroup, but it was too late, the attack had been broken and they streamed back through the fence and to their respective homes.
In the sudden quiet we could hear rakes on pavement and smell the burning of leaves. We smiled at one another, satisfied with another campaign season won. John's mother called for him, it was time for supper. We parted and made our way homeward the warm afternoon sun now starting to disappear behind the trees. Later in my life acorn battles would be replaced by battles of a different sort....battles of the heart.