There is a short season in northwest Ohio that doesn’t have a name; it is the in-between place that separates the official start of fall and the unofficial end of summer. Let’s call it “almost fall.” When I was a child growing up in North Baltimore, it began right after Labor Day and aligned with the annual return to school.
One day, we would be at the Quarry watching our friends perform in the water ballet extravaganza. The next day, “almost fall” would arrive and we would find ourselves overdressed in our new school clothes and new leather shoes. In the cool mornings, the new school clothes seemed appropriate but by the end of the school day, we were sweltering hot and couldn’t wait to get home to change into our summer shorts and tennis shoes again. I honestly don’t remember feeling hotter in my childhood than those “almost fall” walks home from school.
Even though “almost fall” is a very short season, it is clearly delineated in my mind. Brain science shows that our most vivid memories are attached to the sense of smell. To this day, one of my favorite scents is a new box of Crayola crayons. Whenever I catch a whiff of that aroma, my mind instantly returns to the “almost fall” days of North Baltimore in the 1960s as I enjoyed a new box of sharpened crayons that came with the start of each school year.
“Almost fall” also had a special accessory. We each returned to school carrying the year’s new lunchbox sporting a popular television or cartoon character. For a day or two, the Thermos inside our new lunchbox was still intact and we could carry a cold beverage to school with us. I can’t remember the Thermos lasting more than a week though. One accidental drop or bump and the glass mirror on the inside shattered and we needed to buy milk at school the rest of the school year. I’m almost positive that none of my Thermos’ ever survived the “almost fall” season.
The “almost fall” season has flora and fauna that signal its arrival. Walks to school during this period always involved catching caterpillars, or wooly worms as we called them, and grasshoppers. I’m pretty sure that the brown liquid that grasshoppers left in our hand was not tobacco juice as we believed in our childhood.
“Almost fall” also brought us the joy of milkweed pods that we loved to open and blow the parachute seeds into the wind. Other botanical highlights of “almost fall” included buckeyes and acorns. For the Beecher Street gang, the best treat was black walnuts, often used as ammunition in across the street throwing battles. Unfortunately, the black walnuts left indelible stains upon contact.
For such a short non-season, “almost fall” has created powerful memories for me, memories that are as hard to erase as a black walnut stain.