I believe children are born knowing how to cobble together a pile of leaves and jump in it! No one had to show me how to rake mountains of leaves and take a flying leap. Living next door to my grandparents, I had the bounty of two yards, though theirs had a bois d'arc tree which dropped hard knobby green "apples" which had to be pushed aside. Landing on one of them was no fun!
A entire fall afternoon could be frittered away raking and jumping and re-raking and jumping... The crackling sound, the musty smell, the total freedom of indulging oneself in such a pasttime...it was all good.
I don't really remember what ultimately happened to the leaves, whether they were burned or simply left until the grass poked up through them in the spring. Bagging them and putting them out to be hauled away as trash was unheard of.
In the fall, we also took long cane fishing poles to the front and thrashed the pecan trees. The unwieldly poles were difficult to manage for a child, but I made a brave attempt anyway. The pecans were then shelled and used in pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It seems to me that fall came earlier then and lasted longer. School started, but we looked forward eagerly to Saturdays. Saturdays meant listening to "Big Jon and Sparky" on the radio, playing outside until dark, having one's hair put up in pincurls with bobbypins so as to look one's best at Sunday School the next morning. Children weren't rushed from one activity to another all day the way they are now. We made our own activities--such as raking and jumping in the leaves.
The other day I helped my five-year-old granddaughter put together a pitifully small pile of leaves at the end of the driveway and watched her play happily in them. I wondered, "How did she know what to do? I didn't show her, and I doubted that her parents did, though I could be wrong. Did leaf--pile--jump simply make a genetic connection in her brain?
Watching her was deja vu. I remembered those unfettered fall days of my childhood, the cold air on my cheeks, the busyness of raking, the joy of planning the angle of each successive jump for maximum effect. And I wished I could take my granddaughter back to Madison Street, to the double backyard, and say, "Here is your kingdom, your safe childhood kingdom. Run until you're exhausted. Watch out for the bois d'arc apples. Don't take off your sweater even if you get warm. Listen to the mockingbirds as they join your laughing delight. And when you're done, Mimi will call you inside, and we'll sit by the fire and remember the fun you've had..."
All done and over, that day long ago... (From The White Cliffs of Dover by Mary Duer Miller)