Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Welcome fall

Of late, the corn in the field across from our present Irvington Road home is gone and twigs of crop next have popped through. We are around the corner, up the lane from the 1911 parsonage where once preachers slept. Ah yes, ’tis a season change for sure. I do own happy memories of years gone in a home that used to be. 

The late Jimmy Warton (d. 1992) wrote of our spot being named “Ghost Hole Pond.” And he a preacher’s kid at that! It was this lovely home which my wife Hazel invited me to share after she’d proposed and made an honest man of me… Here and now, front porch morning cups of coffee cool too quick. Live sightings of neighbors appear: deer, groundhog and turkeys tease the eye along with numerous cars and trucks prospering the daily economy.

When the sap retreats from the trees, my soul begins to stir with excitement. Oh, mind you, though I love all the seasons, yet summer wears me down. Any sign of a heat let-up piques my curiosity.

Folks near and far begin to converse about the proposed, and/or lack of, fall color. Says one, oh, the dry summer will cause the leaves to drop without so much as a drip of color. Another might say, oh no, I remember back in Fall of nineteen ought something-or-the-other, when we had a much drier summer. The leaves came down with a splash. All the conversations, all the procrastination aside, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

There are other signs of fall that tickle me. They are so regular I could almost set my watch by them. Back in the fall of 1986, we used to go to war with the squirrels in our former parsonage yard. That dwelling now is a haven for nimble fingers, fabrics, quilting and such. Decades now spent ago, two ancient pecan trees stood muster. Our squirrel population is abundant in Irvington. No gun shall threaten them. All year long, they busy away without so much as a notice. Scampering hither and yon, we note their progress with little more than peripheral awareness.

Just as we’d notice the caterpillar webs in the pecans, we began to hear the thump, thump of pecans hitting our metal roof. “Must be the wind,” we’d quip. However, come next day or two, I would hear my late mother-in-law, Mary McCaslin Walker, talking. Nosiness would get the best of me and I’d waddle off to find out just who it was with whom she was speaking; only to find her, hands-on-hips, giving a just-what-for lecture to some bushy-tailed neighbor.

It was ever so humorous, the retired grandmother lecturing to the four-inch-tall beast. Guilty he’d stand, pecans in the ready position. Sometimes he’d be holding onto a twig with a cluster of nuts dangling. One day, one stood on our brick back porch, just as we rushed out the door. What a furor erupted. Bossy chaps. Awesome.

The squirrels have been hereabouts a lot longer than my ministry. One of my fondest memories of the old house was the day I was on my first fall tour, 1986. The main chimneys on the house were abandoned—or, at least, no longer radiated heat. The late deacon, Fred E. Burke Sr., met me in the drive, key in hand. As we stood talking, I looked up at the mid-roof chimney. There was a welcoming committee of five. Ten shiny eyes looked down. Multiple dainty toes held fast the brick work, eager to meet the new tenants. Indeed, the critters lived there before we did.

Listen, not only did we talk to squirrels, we talk to leaves. Remember friend and mentor Charlie Brown, of the funnies fame, who has a pal dog named Snoopy? Snoopy was a great philosopher, who understood folks far better than I.

Ever since our educational Snoopy leaf-talking-days we, kids and all, too, would press the question of leaf exits. Just as quick, some farmer rep would yell, “Get the tape, let’s put ’em back,” as if one could forestall the seasons. I know, forget about it, one should not argue with folks who talk to squirrels and leaves. Say, where was the tape?

One fall, our yard took on a new look. Northeast neighbor Mary Reynolds Pittman bid farewell to an ancient corner-post oak, a chap who had marked our mutual boundary for decades. It died a natural death. It fell in two cuttings. We arrived home just as the lads were hauling off the first load. I could not help noticing that the squirrels had mounted the closest pecan limb to the departing oak. Lined up like sentries, they were paying their respects to a major contributor in their food chain.

Bushy-tail and company were sure to suffer a start—because we’d noticed our largest pecan tree, rotting away on its northern exposure, was now sloughing off bark on its shady side. It was apparently about to give up the ghost, so to speak. It was soon missed by home and tree inhabitants alike. The preacher, fruit cake, snack bowl and pumpkin bread recipes suffered too.

I am peculiarly convinced that things go just as the Good Lord wishes. Leaves will fall. Squirrels will bury bushels more acorns and pecans than they can remember hiding. Preachers and their families will come and go… “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).