A Fall Fable-Burning Leaves Pt II

Vintage Illustration 1948

The blaze of fall color took on a different meaning, the autumn of 1959.

Many neighbors did not only burn leaves, but their trash as well, giving new meaning to fall cleanup.

There was something satisfying about setting fire to your trash, creating dense smoke and reducing it to a pile of ashes in a burn barrel. But gosh darn it, fire in a barrel just doesn’t burn hot enough to destroy poisonous substances released by the burning material, so that dense smoke was chock full of toxic substances.

Over the summer, our next door neighbors, the ever-expanding Moscowitzs, had added  an extension to their home and a forlorn pile of belongings lay in their yard.

On top of that, they  were cleaning out their garage of all manner of debris, tossing all the cans of paints and solvents right into the burn barrel, along with the carpet padding, old vinyl flooring, their old asbestos tiles, piles of plywood, and discarded plastic polyvinyl toys.

Hokey Smokey

We were all outside playing, raking the fall leaves on a November afternoon.  Neighbors were busy fanning smoldering barrels of leaves and trash.

Inhaling deeply of the rich sweet aroma of falls burning leaves and acrid  polyvinyl chlorides,  I would watch with curiosity as the sacrificial smoke wended its way heavenward filling the Autumn sky. I wondered if the dense smoke would interfere in the flight pattern of the flocks of birds migrating south, or clogging the airways for Superman, and Mighty Mouse in their missions to save the weak and helpless.

It already seemed pretty crowded up in the friendly skies what with the fluffy white clouds, the twinkling stars, the roaring jets. Of course there was the expected seasonal traffic of goblins, ghosts and witches, soon to be followed by Santa Claus and his reindeer. Now there were dogs in space, and monkeys in space. And lets not forget Rocky the flying squirrel

Snap Crackle Pop

Over the swooshing sound of the flames and the snap -crackle- pop of sparks, individual voices disappeared as a new sound arose and heads turned. The sound was loud, penetrating.  There were 2 of them that went KERBOOM like the sound of thunder.

Then a pyramid-shaped cloud began to form. How high it went nobody knew  because none could see its top as it billowed up into the sky. Some neighbors swore it went through bursts and flashes that included every color in the spectrum-red, orange, violet, greenish blue.

The whole sky seemed to light up almost instantly by an enormous sheet of fire glowing fiery red and yellow. It receded into a lingering glow followed by a deafening thunderclap, a violent ear-splitting, bone jarring bang which seemed to shake the earth itself. There was a moment of utter silence. The colors gradually faded and the sky was clear again.When it died away, we felt a gentle rain.

Vintage Illustration 1951 panic

“There was no possibility of mistake. Everyone saw what was in the sky” Vintage Illustration Saturday Evening Post 1951

We were standing in a  drizzle of  dioxin drenched soot and ash. Natalie Moscowitz, sporting Clairol’s blazing new look for hair- deep, smouldering red ..stood transfixed at the sight of the sparks flying, the burning debris floating in the air.

A terrifying mishap had brought a shower of ashes down upon us.

Mr. Moscowitz, a bouncy, chubby man with a ready chuckle, looked up in awe  and wonder at what he had done. Clenched in his teeth was one of the dozens of cigars he puffed daily, some of them bummed from Dad. The angle of Victor Moscowitz’s cigars often reflected his inner mood, up for gay, drooping for sad.

His cigar dropped perceptively.

I looked in the direction of the Moscowitz’s; it seemed enveloped in dark clouds.

I felt warmer than usual, almost as if I were glowing, and that others remarked they felt the same way. Maybe it was autumn sunburn. But Dad was getting more and more uneasy Our faces felt hot and we knew something was happening.

With  the constant dropping of acorns on my head, I felt like chicken little as the sky was  falling. We went back to raking again, squirrels continued burying the acorns away stockpiling for a nuclear winter.

Ever whiff anything so good as burning leaves, sizzling away as you play in your yard?

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