October

I love this time of year. The dry leaves chatter in the afternoon breeze. We open the house windows that have been shut up since April. The air feels fresh. I’m reminded of the smell of grass and dirt playing football in the front yard. The Oak at the far end and the bush up closer to the house marked off the opposing goal lines. There were just two of us, but we could play all afternoon.

It was in October, in the late 60s, that we went to Cherokee, NC every year at the same time. We stayed at the same motel with the big Indian on the sign out front. The pool had leaves in it. We ate the same pancake and bacon breakfast. We drove to the same places along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We got our picture taken with the same Indian Chief. And we sat through the same outdoor drama of Unto These Hills.

I was there just a couple weeks ago for the first time since I can’t remember when. The souvenir shops looked the same. Although the Indian Chief was nowhere to be seen, “Unto These Hills” was still playing. A Subway had been added between the “Real Indian Moccasins” and the “Great Smokey Mountain Shop”. We were too early for all the leaf peepers to be in town, and it was a Tuesday. It was a slow day in Cherokee, NC.

When I was a kid, we used to play Cowboys and Indians. If you wanted to be the Indian, a trip to Cherokee was useful. A rabbit fur loin cloth, which we just tucked in our belt over our jeans. I wasn’t about to go buff in a loin cloth, rabbit fur or not. A head band with feathers. A rubber Tomahawk. I must have killed my best friend 782 times with that Tomahawk before the rubber finally fell off. We took turns scalping each other.

One year, I was determined to be the Cowboy. One of our regular side trips from Cherokee was to Ghost Town in the Sky, over in Maggie Valley. We rode the chair lift up to the top of the mountain where there was a real live western town. Saloons. Mercantile. A cemetery where you could read things like:

Here lies One-Eyed-Bill
Who Did Not See It Coming

Fast Jake was Fast
Just Not Fast Enough

The big show for the day was the bank robbery and the shootout right there in the middle of town. Guns were blazing. Bad Bart had underestimated his match. The Sheriff saved the day. All the dead guys got up and walked away to the applause of the crowd when it was over. I bought a cap pistol with a holster that tied to my leg just like The Lone Ranger.

On the way down the chair lift, I was practicing killing Bad Bart and dropped my pistol. It had to be 40 feet to the ground. Every year when we went back, I looked for it from my seat in the lift. No idea how I would ever get it if ever I saw it, but I hoped.

Soup and cornbread are better in October. Porch sitting is better. Yard work can be done without fear of heat exhaustion and 40 pound mosquitoes that suck your blood dry. October is when I start thinking about a fire in the fireplace. It’s too hot yet, but I think about it. Leaf color inspires. The stars are brighter.

Soon it will be time for Trick or Treating. I mean real Trick or Treating, too. Not this Trunk or Treat stuff in a parking lot somewhere. We made up most of our costumes. A Hobo had freckles dotted on his face with a stick and a stuffed pillowcase tied to it. Superman wore a T-shirt with a “S” blazed on it with a marker, and he wore a pillowcase for a cape. Moms everywhere sacrificed untold numbers of pillowcases for Halloween. There were Indians, most of whom had been to Cherokee, NC. And Cowboys with cap pistols. I bet they had never ridden the chair lift at Ghost Town.

Our parents would let us out of the car at several different places around Hampton and we would walk the neighborhoods like gangs of candy hoarders. Billy Dan wore his gorilla suite and hid in the bushes and scared the bejeebbees out of us every year. We lived for October.

As it turns out, today was a fine day for pumpkin carving. The sun was out. The leaves were rustling. We sat out a table in the back yard and put an old vinyl tablecloth on it. According to my granddaughter, there were two big pumpkins and three baby pumpkins. Her Mama and Uncle carved and gutted with knives and spoons. She drew with markers.

Goofy faces are the best. The little triangle eyes appeared. Crooked grins with or without teeth.

“You know what we’re gonna do with these, Grandpa?”

Like I had no idea, “No, what?”

“We’re gonna put candles inside them so their faces will glow at night, and they’ll look so scaaaareey.”

What a great idea. I love October.

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