Do you remember when October meant burning leaves? When I was little, we lived in a big apartment building with more concrete than grass around it, and the janitor took care of the raking of the few leaves to be seen, but as I walked home from school or went to the library on a Saturday afternoon, I’d pass homes where piles of burning leaves left a telltale sign in the atmosphere, a pungent odor that tickled my nose. Or I’d see kids raking the leaves into huge piles, toss the rakes aside, and take a flying leap into the center of the pile, shrieking with glee as they did so. It looked like fun, but I never got to try it.
I was a Girl Scout all through my grade school years. First we joined Brownies, and about the end of third grade, we had a Flying Up ceremony which meant we were full-fledged Girl Scouts. We moved from the brown uniform to the green. Every October our scout troop went on a field trip to a local forest preserve. Country kids had nature all around them, but we big city scouts journeyed to a small piece of nature surrounded by city sights and sounds, even though we felt like we were far from the urban area. It was as if someone had gathered a piece of forest, rolled it up, and brought it to the city. Once there, they unrolled it, the trees popped upright, and city children could pretend they were far away.
We took hikes through the woods at the forest preserve, identified trees and plants, were warned to watch out for poison ivy and built a bonfire in a clearing. We gathered around the crackling fire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the end of a stick. Every Girl Scout learned how to prepare S’Mores with graham crackers, Hershey’s chocolate bars, and the blackened, gooey marshmallows. Squash the chocolate and marshmallow between two graham crackers, and you have a real treat. Sometimes we’d prepare a meal on the grate in a readymade grill in one of the forest preserve shelters. My favorite was a dish called Bags Of Gold. It was only a big pot of cream of tomato soup from cans, and dumplings made with a square of Velveeta cheese in the center floated in the soup. That hot soup and the soft pillow-like dumplings with their golden cheese center was my favorite outdoor meal. I never had it anywhere but on the Girl Scout field trips. Somehow, that dish belonged to outside eating, not to be done in our kitchen at home. I’m sure it would never have tasted as good as it did in the crisp October air.
October also meant Halloween parties where the most popular game in the late 1940s was bobbing for apples. I really hated that game, but everyone had to try. I had long hair, curly and auburn red, and no matter what I did to avoid it, I managed to have wet curls before I captured an apple between my teeth from the tub of water. I’m sure there were other games played, but those miserable little apples floating merrily around the tub have stayed in my mind as one of those memories better pushed into the deep recesses of my brain.
At school our art classes concentrated on leaves and pumpkins, witches and black cats all during October. The teacher read scary stories to us all that month, and we made plans for our Halloween parade and parties. Every class in the school lined up the day of the party wearing costumes of various kinds, most of them created from things we had at home. Nobody bought a costume. We marched around the outside of the school and some of the mothers came as spectators. Dads didn’t take off work for school events then like they often do today. We didn’t feel deprived not having our fathers see us in the parade. It was just the way it was. We’d get back to our classrooms and play games, including that awful bobbing for apples, and then have our treats. Usually frosted sugar cookies made to look like pumpkins, apple cider and a nut cup filled with candy corn and peanuts. Nobody seemed to be concerned about the kids who were allergic to peanuts then either.
We kept our costumes on after school, and as soon as darkness descended, we were out to Trick or Treat in groups. Big kids had to take their little brothers and sisters along. Our apartment building had fifty-two apartments, and we rang the doorbell of every one, climbing three flights of stairs in each vestibule. Great exercise, but we only looked at it as a means to get lots of candy. Mother put it all in a big bowl and allowed us only a piece or two each day until it was gone. I think my mother helped the level of the bowl go down during the day while we were at school, although she claimed she never touched it.
October in Chicago brought chilly mornings and evenings, but often pleasant afternoons. We had a lot of cold, rainy days, too, in October. It was time to put summer clothes away and bring out the flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets. October brought a blaze of color that soothed the soul, and as the leaves dropped and swirled in the winds, we knew winter waited just around the corner.