By Rosalie Tirella
At Butler Farm in Millbury, it’s so gorgeous out here: God’s gift to me and my dogs during hard times. …A few days ago I was at the farm’s dog park working on CECELIA, writing up invoices, when I opened my file folders to find a few autumn leaves pressed between my notebook covers: a little scarlet leaf, a little gold leaf. They must have fluttered inside my open notebooks from the trees above where I sit at the dog park. The farm’s trees look like a vintage necklace now, amber, gold, ruby, as they completely surround the park, right outside the dog park fence.
When I saw the two autumn leaves in my folder all at once my heart lept up! My late mother came to me, and all the love I felt for her when I was a child swallowed me whole. It was a happiness I hadn’t experienced in years! I saw my late mom, in her early 40s, picking autumn leaves off the sidewalk on Grosvenor Street, beneath that huge huge tree that covered Helen’s Corner Store like an umbrella…here it was fall and she had walked out with me after work to pick out the most beautiful fall leaves in Green Island. We had so many trees on Grosvenor Street – you walked to Lamartine Street School under the rustling canopy…and were transported…
Rosalie! my mother shouts to me. Look at this one! and she shows me a big yellow leaf. She doesn’t know the tree’s name – I don’t ask, neither do I, though I’m certain we had a quiz on them in science class. I pick up a ruby maple leaf – also huge – and yell back: Look Ma! We are ankle-deep in autumn leaves. Waves and waves of beautiful but brittle leaves, so they crackle as we wade through them all. We walk to the next tree – a different kind – and stoop to gather a few of its fallen jewels. We are holding our big beautiful leaves like bouquets of flowers … There is a chestnut tree down the street and we go to it so I can grab a handful of the gorgeous round nuts. I love their deep brown. My Jaju from Poland – my grandfather and my mother’s father – used to roast them and eat them by the stove. When my mother was a little girl he’d take her blueberry picking with him in the neighborhood. He’d pick mushrooms, too.
I can hear thousands of leaves rustling in the wind as Ma and I collect the fallen ones. I look up at the crisp blue sky and see them all clinging to their branches for dear life, swaying in the October breeze. “Nothing gold can stay” I recite the Frost poem, two stanzas, easy to remember, for my recitation project at school. Someone has tried to remember all by heart The Raven by Poe. I chose easy – I am shy, my classmate is brave, but I remember my Frost poem today and whisper it to myself.
It’s almost supper time, so Ma and I stop collecting leaves and walk home to our Lafayette Street tenement. It’s a pleasant five-minute walk. After my sisters, Ma and I have eaten supper, Ma and I take out our beautiful fall leaves and press them in Ma’s old gold -leafed dictionary. It’s got a black cloth cover. It’s thick and looks like the Bible. But Ma would never press leaves in a Bible! It’s her dictionary, the one she lets me use to do my homework for Mr. Monfredo, my teacher. Her old boss, the Bishop of Springfield, gave it to her years ago during the Great Depression. Here it was 1969 and we were living in Green Island and I was in fifth grade at Lamartine Street School and Ma was helping me make a leaf collage for art class. Ma loved art, drawing … sketching little lambs with my number 2 pencil in my notebook.
To press the leaves, Ma went to her tall white metal kitchen cabinet whose doors never stayed closed and got out her roll of wax paper. Tearing 15 or 20 squares off the roll, she had me gently place one individual leaf between two squares of wax paper. Then she slid the square between two of the pages in her six-inch thick dictionary. It contained every word in the English language she once told me! We did this for the prettiest leaves; the rest I took into my bedroom and laid them on my bed and stared at their beauty and turned them over and touched their fine veins with my index finger and brought one to my nose to smell it. I would scotch tape a few to my wall, right next to my David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman pictures I cut out of my cousin’s hand me down Tiger Beat magazine. I would be in my room, with my little girl treasures, content, even a little giddy.
My mother had made my day. Once again.