For some reason I feel that this autumn is one of those I will always remember. The foliage is beautiful and prolific, which is something of a surprise to me after the dry summer. And like most things any more, it brought back pleasant memories of my youth in Rushville.
Dad would come home from his auto agency around 5:30 or 6 and we would have supper and then he and I would go out and rake leaves. We, as our neighbors, would pile the leaves up in the cement gutters by the sidewalk in small, long piles. The road was chip and seal but the gutter and sidewalk were cement. We would then light the leaves and stick with them until they were nothing but ashes and no flame or smoldering leaves were left.
This was our daily (no later than every other day) event. We lived on Main at 13th Street and had some trees in our yard as well as several along 3 in front of the house. If we didn’t rake every evening we would find ourselves with more leaves than we could realistically burn in the road. And everyone in town burned leaves in the road at this time. The smell of burning leaves tended to smell up the town for weeks in the fall. And I loved that leaf burn smell almost as much as coal smoke. If it rained we had our hands full with the wet and non-burnable leaves. We would pile them up in the lot next door and allow them to dry out and rot. If they got dried enough we might take them and make small piles of them then burn them in the field under close supervision.
Everyone did the same thing, burned leaves in the gutter. Even on the Main Street and other heavily used roads many would burn leaves. We always used 13th Street because dad felt the state may well frown on us using their road way. Not only that, 13th was a lot less used than Main and thus less apt to spread burning leaves as the cars passed.
We always had rakes and hoses available to be able to keep the burning leaves under control. The fire department and police did not feel it was necessary to stop us from burning and we all took advantage of that attitude. There was a town dump where the Riverside Amphitheater is today and the city would take excess leaves and leaves from the parks and other city owned properties there to be burnt.
The dump was free and under city administration and there was a gentleman there who would tell you where to drop off your leaves or other junk to be sure they would be where he felt they should be. At times the city would have a pretty good fire going on at the dump, but always under control and usually with the fire department there watching. Looking at Riverside today it is difficult to remember how messy and stinky the old dump could be. Any and every thing was dumped in the area and usually only moved around rather than actually disposed of.
Another fall event that we had every year was the starling invasion. Starlings would come to town and nest in trees around the homes and make a lot of noise. Boy, could those small birds make noise! They would also leave droppings on the sidewalk and street as well as trees and anyone passing under the trees. So everyone felt it was their duty to do all they could to rid themselves of the starling nuisance we saw twice a year. In the spring and fall we were starling heaven and few if any cared for that occurrence. So, out would come the shot guns, BB guns and anything else that might scare the birds off. Dad and Mom would take metal spoons and pans outside and bang the daylights out of them to keep he birds going and not nesting in our trees. Of course, that meant that the birds would then visit our neighbors, but they were ready and out banging just like us.
Shot guns were at times frowned on, but in dire circumstances they were used (and effectively, too). BB guns and numerous supposedly good scary things were also used. Stuffed owls, fake owls, fake hawks, anything that the starlings would be afraid of were used. We even tied aluminum strips in our trees to scare the birds away. Didn’t work either. Did make our maple trees look a lot like Christmas trees, but the birds were not impressed. At times the local police would come out to an area and fire their shot guns and pistols in the air to scare the birds away, for a few minutes. After a time we figured out if we let the birds nest then we could use our BB guns and easily kill 30 or 40 a night. Of course, that meant the next day I was to go out and pick up the bodies and dispose of them away far away from the house.
In that day every one would do about the same thing with and for leaves and birds. Some worked, some didn’t, but it seemed everyone was open to try anything that came along that said it would scare the birds or kill them; we didn’t care as long as we got rid of them.
We still have starlings which, I guess, shows just how good we managed to get rid of their ancestors. And there is still the problem of how to get them to not roost in Rushville or Milroy or anywhere. But we dare not burn leaves in the road way today; our local constabulary, I am sure, would take a dim view of such going on.