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Fall memories

Though the thermometer has yet to be convinced, fall is here. You can see it in the dying grass, the falling leaves and the shorter days.

Summer’s heat will soon relent and, for a short time, it will feel like the season that’s often pictured on postcards.

Growing up, fall afternoons were spent getting the last bales of hay in the barn, riding horses, fishing, listening to the local community college band practice from our backyard, anything outside really. If we timed our game of backyard football just right, it sounded like the band was playing for us.

We played a lot of backyard football back then. No helmets, no pads, just a bunch of kids on a dusty patch of ground. We tackled hard. Some of us cried on the inside when we got hit, but never on the outside.

Some of us went on to real football when we got older, and tackled the only way we knew how, the way we learned in the backyard. The small school I attended in junior high didn’t have a real football field, so we practiced on a scrubby lot that had a stand of trees for an endzone. It was not uncommon for a play to end in the trees, players tripping on roots and dodging limbs.

We played our actual games on the community college field not far from my house. I can still smell the sweat-stained uniforms and the plastic water bottles. My football career was short-lived, but football and fall are still cemented together in my mind.

Fall was a season that was always welcome, mostly because it meant summer was over.

If you’ve ever hauled square hay bales in August, you know how welcome October’s cooler weather is. Summer can be fun, but if you worked outside like we did growing up, it was just hot.

Fall meant no more grass to cut and no more peas to pick. Fall had its own chores for sure, but at least it wasn’t 100 degrees anymore.

I remember one fall when bottle-feeding my grandparents’ dairy calves was on my list. After school each day, we’d head out the farm, mix the powdered milk and let the dozen or so calves nurse. The barn that held the calves was later picked up by a tornado and deposited in a nearby oak tree.

Most of the barns I grew up with are now gone. But I still see them when I picture fall at the farm. My father and I built one of them during a particularly cold Christmas break. Another was built by my grandfather decades ago and used for storing hay. I once tried to build a coffee table from that ancient barn wood. The oak was rock-hard and difficult to work with. I finished the project but the table weighed 200 pounds and looked more like a bench. It eventually ended up in the burn pile.

A lot of things ended up in burn piles. Limbs, logs and feed sacks, of course, but also old furniture and other pieces of our lives we didn’t need anymore. I still have a burn pile, and I still light a fire under those same items every once in a while.

What didn’t go to the burn pile or wasn’t picked up by the garbage truck went to the landfill. For some reason, when I picture a landfill it’s always fall. Maybe that was the designated season for going to the dump for the Hortons. Landfills were different then, at least where I grew up.

You pulled a trailer of trash to the smallest garbage hill and threw the junk off. There was no sorting. And the landfill was often full of people, picking through other people’s trash and hoping to find a treasure. We once took a set of glass shower doors out there after a bathroom remodel, and after propping them up just so, my dad and I threw glass bottles at them until they shattered. It was the most fun a 10-year-old could have.

On the way home from the landfill we always stopped at a tiny gas station that no longer sold gas for a glass bottle Coke and a bag of peanuts. After a sip or two, the peanuts went into the bottle. That combination of sweet and salty still reminds me of fall.

As a teenager I traveled those same roads drinking Coke and peanuts. In my memories it was always fall.

I hooked the biggest bass of my life one fall, not far from the landfill. I was slowly reeling a Texas-rigged Jelly worm when the fish hit. It jumped once, wrapped the line around a cypress knee and was gone for good. With God as my witness (and my childhood friend Steve), it weighed at least 10 pounds.

Fall is different for me now. There’s less fishing, no hay hauling, very few trips to the landfill, no cows to feed and no barns to play in.  But it’s still a special season. It marks a change and, more than anything, that’s what makes fall my favorite time of year.

We wish for cooler weather in summer and warmer weather in winter, but it’s fall that is often the perfect in-between. The days are warm and nights just cool enough for a sleeve.

Winter’s wet and cold will soon arrive, so enjoy Mississippi’s short-lived fall. You will be surprised at how many memories you can make if you do.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.