Boomers Disturb the Seasonal Peace

Mister Boomer is feeling rather curmudgeonly these days, and the reason is simple: everywhere you turn these days — even watching TV commercials — you’re told in no uncertain terms that “summer is coming to a close.” This is not good news for Mister B. Summer is by far his favorite time of the year. “Oh, but fall has such pretty colors,” you might say. In Mister Boomer’s eyes, summer is the introvert, exuding a subtle yet confident calm in a range of greens and blues, while fall is the extrovert, shouting “look at me!” in attention-grabbing yellows, oranges and reds. Don’t those showy leaves know this is their last hurrah? “Oh, but fall has such cool temperatures,” you may say. Mister Boomer responds that is exactly what makes it less desirable. In every depiction of paradise recorded in Western Civilization, occupants are not wearing sweaters (or parkas, for that matter). In fact, the climate seemed so temperate in Paradise that the main mode of dress appeared to be a fig leaf. Ergo, paradise equals warmer temperatures.

Yet colors and temperatures of the impending seasonal change are the least of it. The real issue is leaf blowers. These abominations appeared for public consumption in post-boomer years. The first leaf blowers were gas-powered backpack systems that originated from garden foggers for pesticides in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, professional landscapers had a walk-behind leaf blower available for use on large properties. It wasn’t until 1978 when the first hand-held leaf blower made its way into the consumer market.

Mister Boomer remembers a time not so long ago when people didn’t feel the need to pierce the neighborhood stillness with the shriek of a leaf blower engine. He remembers a time when clouds of oil-filled smoke didn’t surround the operator of a gas-powered leaf blower. He remembers a time when there where these things called rakes. In other words, Mister B does not see a reason for homeowners to have a leaf blower, any more than parking an anti-aircraft missile launcher in the driveway. There may be a professional purpose to these things, but not for home use.

Noise and air pollution caused by leaf blowers has been a recognized problem almost from their inception. Professional operators of these garden implements must wear hearing protection for their own safety, and steps are being made, with both battery-powered electric and gas-powered models, to reduce their environmental impact. Yet the question remains of why an average homeowner with a couple of hundred feet of property at best needs this equipment.

Go back 40 or 50 years, and most boomers had not heard a leaf blower in their neighborhood. Rakes were a hand-powered garden tool, made of metal or wood. The best rakes for collecting leaves had flexible prongs that fanned out from the wooden handle about three-quarters of the way down the shaft. Rakes were most often utilized by children under the age of sixteen. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, it was the kids in the family who raked the leaves. Every child in every house had “chores,” in every season, including leaf collection. By the age of sixteen, kids had part-time jobs and a car, so the leaf raking fell to the younger siblings, both boys and girls. Some enterprising boomers made a dollar by raking the leaves of their neighbors, especially seniors without children at home to handle the job.

Raking leaves was more than a chore, however. By combining raked leaves from more than one household, a large pile in a grassy area near the street, or in the street itself, provided opportunities for jumping and playing. The kids saw that a pile could cushion a rolling leap in much the same way as ball pits operate for kids today. Leaves could be tossed in the air, at other boomers, or stuffed into jacket backs in a tag-like game. After a play session, leaves could often need re-raking and collecting.

In Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods in the 1950s, leaves were raked into piles in the street at curbside, where they were lit on fire and burned to ash. By the very early 1960s, his city and a host of others banned the process, deciding it wasn’t a good idea to have prepubescent boomers playing with matches, and of course, air pollution awareness was increasing at the same time.

Still, we are faced with an impending change in the air. As the Byrds told us, “… to every season turn, turn, turn …” We as boomers are facing each day with news of how time is passing. In recent weeks, additional people of note to boomers have passed on, including actor Ed Asner, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, TV weatherman Willard Scott, swamp pop drummer Warren Storm (The Shondells, before Tommy James) and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, to name a few.

Summer is coming to an end, boomers. Do you want to spend your autumn years surrounded by the noise and air pollution of “convenience” gadgets? Or, like the leaves on the trees, shouting to the sky in a burst of expression?


When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

When Mister Boomer was growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s, his parents’ front yard had the two biggest trees in the neighborhood sitting in the front of the house between the sidewalk and the street. The developer, who had built the houses in the early 1940s, most likely in anticipation of returning GIs, was smart enough to leave some mature trees on the block that were there long before the bulldozers arrived.

The trees provided ample and welcome shade all summer long, but as autumn came calling, they became the bane of the neighborhood. Bushels and bushels of leaves dropped from the trees, and with the help of a little wind laid a blanket of yellow, orange and brown halfway down the block. At any given time, the leaves would be past ankle deep anywhere on the property.

As was the case with most boomer households, the task of raking the leaves fell to the young boys. Boomer boys, however, were never content to just do a chore of any kind without trying to find some fun in the process. In the case of the leaves, piles became the goal: the bigger the piles, the better for jumping into. Mister Boomer and his brother worked at the epicenter of the leaf gathering, seeing as we lived beneath the biggest suppliers of the falling stuff. Consequently, the piles were often formed at the Boomer household, or in the street directly in front of the house.

Several of the neighborhood kids would work together to collect leaves in wooden bushel baskets that families had gotten from the produce market when they purchased apples, potatoes, green beans or cucumbers for canning. Like working a production line, they’d fill-and-dump, fill-and-dump bushels of leaves until the piles rose to the height of most of the boys. Then it was time to play.

Jumping into the piles was OK, but hardly provided the boys the thrill they were after. Readjusting the piles, they would construct a wall that stretched across the street; the boys had a bigger impact in mind. Getting their bicycles, they gathered at the top of the block, which happened to be a small hill, and zoomed down and through the wall. Leaves flew in the air every which way, much to the delight of the boys. Dozens would be stuck to their clothing, turning them into instant fall-leaf monsters.

By the time a few more satisfying runs were accomplished, a mother or two would step out on a porch and “suggest” that the boys rake the leaves as they were told. Grabbing rakes that had been haphazardly discarded, they then pushed the piles into mounds near the street curb. A quick match to a single leaf by one of the older boys would start a pile burning.

It was customary to burn piles of leaves then, with the blessing of the city. It was the common way to rid one’s yard of leaves. To this day, Mister Boomer can smell the burning leaves of his youth … and it smells like autumn.

A few years later, the city reversed the policy and banned burning in the street. Not long after that, a neighbor, who had long expressed contempt for the trees that had deposited such a huge biological layer on his property, took samples to the city. The trees were diagnosed as having been diseased. One fall day, Mister Boomer came home from school to find two massive stumps where the trees once stood. Mister Boomer’s mom told him the workers had counted the rings, and the trees were over 80 years old. It felt like an old friend had moved away, never to return.

What memories do falling leaves bring to you, boomers?