I recall as a boy, raking leaves, on those cold, cloudy Sunday afternoons in late November, under the silence of the trees, the north wind blowing, maples and birches fluttering, falling, blanketing the frosty lawn as hard as rock.
Entering the back yard, I’d see leaves scattered everywhere, total chaos. I’d have to start in some place, often a spot with the most leaves on the frosty lawn, as it was easy to rake the maples and birches into big piles.
I’d always have to pick the leaves out of the garden. I hated doing this. The rake would get caught in the shrubs. My hands and finger nails would become grungy from the dirt in the garden.
Sometimes the wind would blow the pile of leaves away, scattering them all over the lawn again. I get frustrated, start to swear. On occasion, mother would open the kitchen window, warn me not to use the “f-bomb.”
I never wore gloves while raking the leaves. Wearing gloves made picking up the leaves difficult: You couldn’t feel the leaves in your hand or grab a large bunch. Working with my hands was much faster. I could grab and pick up a half a bag full of leaves. But my fingers would numb, feel like I had frost bite.
While raking in the biting air of November, I’d often cough and shiver. My nose would start running like a river. My fingers would crack in the cold, become as rough as sandpaper. I’d work like a horse. My energy would deplete like a lawnmower running out of gas. My mind would become bored, disinterested, like a kid who no longer wanted to play with his new Hot Wheels.
In those days, you didn’t have an iPod to listen to music, keep you company. Sometimes. though, while raking, I’d see a gaggle of Canadian geese flying high in the sky in a v-shape, hear them honking their horns, traveling away from the impending snowy weather, escaping south to Florida or some other warm place that many people can only dream about, have only postcard memories.
While raking, I’d usally start to daydream—relaxing in front of the hot fire-place, warm my chilly bones, revive my enthusiasm, drinking delicious hot chocolate, filling my hungry stomach with a foot-long hot dog, sour cream potato chips, chocolate-covered brownies, and watching NFL foot ball on the RCA coloured television.
At some point, while raking, I’d always have to convince myself, talk to the “self” like a Buddhist monk, to carry on, complete laborious, menial, plodding task of raking leaves, not throw down the rake, walk away.
I knew I’d feel a sense of accomplishment, as though performing a good deed for someone less fortunate.
I’d rake and rake and rake, build leaves into piles, stuff them into big brown bags, haul them to the curb, like garbage, where they’d wait for pickup.
And after the chore of raking leaves was complete, I knew that I’d also feel a sense of relief for not having to rake leaves for mother till next year,
as though I’d finished an exam I didn’t want to write in the first place, and received an A+ grade.
In those fleeting years as a boy, raking leaves on those frigid Sunday autumn afternoons taught me several valuable lessons about life: I quickly discovered that chores were often thankless tasks few people had passion for doing, that I’d rather put in time reading books, studying in school, get paid for working with my mind, become a knowledge worker like a teacher or professor, and that I’d always thank those people who enjoyed working with their hands, doing things like raking leaves for a living.