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?