Mundane Moments: Dead leaves crackle.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then:

It happens in Charlie Brown’s universe, and only there.

In the cloudless sunshine of fall, young children rake up piles of leaves — and then disrupt them — while wearing T-shirts and knee shorts. Come to think of it, they wear the same outfits outdoors in late November to eat Thanksgiving dinner as well.

There is no biting wind in a “Peanuts” autumn, nor any of the cold rain that makes raking and bagging leaves such a clammy experience a day later.

(While we’re on the subject, Charlie Brown probably lived in one of those pampered communities where they only had to rake their leaves to the edge of the road and wait for some sort of municipal super-sucker to come inhale them. I bet he never filled two dozen black yard-bags in a single day and then dragged them all to the curb.)

The boys in this picture probably don’t see it as such, but they have been granted a 24-hour pass into Charlie Brown’s world.

The front yard where this snapshot was taken is maybe eight miles away, as the crow flies, from the shore of a Great Lake.

Judging from the leaves, which are turning color but only just starting to fall, it is probably the end of September or even early October. This is apple season. Sweatshirt season. Jacket season. Jack Frost season.

The kids seem perfectly comfortable in their short shirt-sleeves, though.

And — while the picture suffers from Seventies cheap-camera craplitude — if you blow it up to maximum size, you see something that looks a whole lot like a bare foot sticking out of the bigger boy’s right pants leg.

What we have here is a last unseasonal burst of summer — a final day or two to laugh in the face of the wind, and frolic as if it were June.

It is a rare and limited treat in this front yard to walk barefoot through autumn leaves.

These children, one imagines, have stopped savoring the opportunity for thirty quick seconds so some adult can capture their glorious moment for the ages. Then they will burst forth again to laugh and gambol.

And yet, if you blow the picture up again, the older boy appears to wear only the dimmest of smiles, if that. (The younger boy has a prankish Ulysses Macaulay kind of look about him.)

The older boy leans gently to one side, as though the tree is holding him up. To me he looks pensive or wistful, or even worried, or perhaps like he is thinking hard about something off in the distance.

The same sorts of emotions, in short, that one might associate with Charlie Brown.

Perhaps the older boy, like ol’ Chuck, has discovered that there is a psychic price to pay in exchange for living in the magic autumnland where dead leaves crackle between the toes. Maybe he is learning that it only looks like fun.

He is lucky: In a day or two, he will be back in the soothing, familiar chill of an upstate fall, and standard emotional service will be restored.

Charlie Brown and his friends, meanwhile, are fated to do time until the snow falls and the pond freezes, stuck in their monotonous non-autumn.

It is an OK place to visit but a better place to leave … if you can.

Penfield, New York, September/October 1975.

6 thoughts on “Mundane Moments: Dead leaves crackle.

  1. I always thought the driveway spur was closer to that little tree. Odd to go “bare footin’!” so close to the horse chestnut tree. Maybe that was the cause for my restrained enthusiasm. And are you sure the date is correct? You look awfully big for a 14 month old kid.
    The texture of the paper in that photo negates 100 years of improvement in silver halide crystal size. OTOH, has a nice Impressionist effect.

  2. This tree was in the front yard, closer to the Salatas. It was cut down after it died – nice fruitwood to burn! The driveway spur was to the far right of this tree. Pensiveness and slight puckishness may have been due to being asked to rake the leaves! As to age – I vote for a 26 mo. old – 14 mo. old barely able to be steady on his feet.

    Nice trip back in time – thanks!


  3. I rise to take issue with your characterization of Charlie Brown’s neighborhood. His father was a barber, as you may recall. As the owner of a small, independent business, it’s likely that he could provide a comfortable living for Charlie, Sally, and Mrs. Brown, but not an especially luxurious one, three bedrooms tops, finished basement maybe, small yard with a kite-eating tree.

    And while we never saw anyone filling bags with leaves in a Peanuts strip, I am betting that Mr. Brown and his son did precisely that. To the elder Brown, it was likely part of the price for owning a modest home in a modest neighborhood at mid-century. His son, who was known to simply enjoy waiting at the barber shop to go home with his father, would likely have seen it as another opportunity to spend quality time with the only man we know for certain that he admires, apart from Joe Shlabotnik.

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