Autumn finally arrived this week. Even though we knew it was on its way, there were a lot of people in denial. I don’t know why they were so surprised, because it happens every year at about the same time.
On the other hand, who doesn’t want to believe that 80-degree days and golden sunshine will last forever? From the extended winter forecast, we may be in for a humdinger beginning sometime after Christmas. Engaging in a little warm fantasy isn’t a bad thing.
The good news is, autumn-leaf season may last a lot longer this year. The trees on Beautiful Lookout behind my place are just now starting to show a little color, and the hickory tree across the street has only shed a few leaves, but I know there will be more.
I didn’t make it to the Autumn Leaf Festival last week because there were other things on my plate, but I experienced it second-hand through Facebook posts. You would never know that the hills around Clarion were still mostly green.
I don’t know if my grandson, Steele Henderson, strolled up the street to watch the parade. He transferred to Clarion University at the beginning of the fall semester and may have been doing other things. He’s in the National Guard and also works part-time with veterans in the area.
I hope he got to see at least a little of the ALF festivities. I mean, there are all kinds of family stories associated with it. He needs to make some of his own memories.
I think the first time my family took me to see it was in 1960. Fortunately, it was one of those perfect fall days and everything else played right along.
It was the first time I’d seen the Zem Zem Shriners’ red fezzes and little cars. There were more than a few clowns strolling the sidewalks, and nobody seemed to be particularly afraid of them. There was something special about the big bass drums’ thumping that made my insides feel funny.
Horses, so many horses, all of them high-stepped past the crowd. Bagpipe bands thrilled my erstwhile Scots grandfather, even though he grew up in Seminole and was more inclined to watch Barn Dance and Lawrence Welk on television. The majorettes made every little girl want to twirl a baton and wear white boots.
That was the day I was presented with my first helium-filled balloon. That was also the day I discovered that you had to keep the darned thing on a leash or it would escape from you. I cried.
A few years later, the weather did not cooperate one single bit. In my misty memory, I could almost believe that it snowed during ALF, but my mother assures me it didn’t. It was simply miserably cold and rainy.
Somehow, we had managed to snag folding chairs set up in front of the movie theater. After pondering our situation for a few minutes, Mom grabbed me and we went trotting down the street to the JCPenney store when it was still located on Main Street.
After standing in line to use the ladies’ room for ages, we hunted down a display of plastic tablecloths. Mom scooped up a couple of them, paid at the register and then we trotted back to our sodden relatives. The cloths were waterproof and windproof, and they did help a bit.
Nevertheless, it was still a cold and miserable experience. I think my grandmother stuck her feet inside a shopping bag in search of a little warmth.
By the time I got to Clarion State College for my freshman year, the magic had worn off a bit, but all the city kids on my dorm floor had to experience the festivities. It didn’t matter that freshmen were more or less quarantined to Forest Manor several blocks off-campus. We made the trek.
The following year, I had transferred to a Penn State branch campus but came back to visit my old friends on campus during ALF. For some reason, I enjoyed it more after a brief break.
Some things become dearer to us after we don’t feel obliged to do them. Even though the weather was overcast and drizzly, I think it was my best experience at the ALF.
I was always in school or working over the next few decades and never made it back. My mom used to take my grandmother to see the crafts on Wednesdays, and I know my daughter went along a couple of times. The next time I experienced a part of the ALF was when I had to attend to some L-V business and bought a few strips of chocolate-covered bacon back when that was a thing in 2012.
It’s hard to describe a typical ALF based on past experiences, and that is a good thing. For some reason, the rainy miserable days are more memorable than the golden sunny ones.
That sounds an awful lot like autumn in general.
[Susan Kerr is a semi-retired freelance writer living in her hometown of New Bethlehem. Previously, she was the managing editor of a regional-interest magazine and a business journal in State College.]