It is late October, and it is time to rake the leaves. I usually wait for all the leaves to fall so I don’t have to do the job twice.
On this crisp, cloudless morning, I’m wearing sweatpants, a flannel shirt, and a gold-colored sweater. Once fashionable, the sweater is now faded and stained, has a hole in the left elbow and a wide, soiled collar, and is missing all five buttons.
The sweater belonged to my dad. I had given it to him new on a Christmas long ago. It saw a lot of holidays and events over the years, but eventually the sweater frayed badly and was relegated to leaf-raking and other yard work. When I cleaned out Dad’s hall closet after he died, I found it.
“Are you going to throw this gold sweater in the rag bag?” my wife, Carole, had asked me after giving it the once-over.
“No way,” I protested. “It’s special.”
When I wear it now to gather the leaves, my dad feels close. I can faintly smell his Old Spice cologne on the fabric. I feel his warmth, his strength. I see him making a humongous pile of leaves for the grandkids to cannonball into. It seems when I wear the sweater, I rake up as many memories as leaves.
Our acreage in northwestern New Jersey is surrounded by hardwood trees. Pear and apple trees flank the western end of the lawn, while two dwarf crabapple trees stand in the center. There are leaves galore.
Dad said to always have a plan, so I start raking at the house and work my way toward the road. I am a little rusty but soon develop a cadence. My heart pumps and my muscles flex as the carpet of colorful leaves gradually retreats.
When I approach the crabapple trees, squirrels scatter. They were polishing off the rest of the marble-size fruit. It has been a banner year, and Carole and I put up 10 jars of tangy crabapple jelly—Dad’s all-time favorite sweet. He loved spreading the jelly on toasted English muffins. Carole says I definitely inherited my sweet tooth from him.
I survey my progress. I’m almost to Carole’s rose garden. Virtually all the hybrid tea roses have ceased blooming except for one ready-to-open John F. Kennedy. Dad had given Carole the white rose for Mother’s Day one year.
Suddenly, something bright yellow catches my eye. “Well, I’ll be,” I exclaim. It’s a dandelion flower in full bloom in late October! That’s like finding a four-leaf clover, sure to bring good luck, Dad had once told me. In April, hundreds, maybe thousands, dot the lawn. Dad and I always said that one spring we were going to harvest the flowers and brew dandelion wine. Sadly, we never got the chance before he passed away.
I reach the road, collect the mail and return to the house. “Finished raking?” Carole asks as she plucks an errant leaf from my sweater’s collar.
“Yep, all done.”
“You know, you look just like your dad in that sweater,” Carole says.
That was one of the nicest things Carole—or for that matter anyone else—has ever said to me.