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Autumn's splendor always brings a smile

Autumn, my favorite time of year, brings the chill present just beyond the sun's rays. The cool, dry breezes blow away heat and humidity. Leaves, lit by the sun and nipped by the air, blush golden amber, charred rust, fiery orange, torch red, honey brown, burnt caramel and deep purple. Like spinning pinwheels, they flutter from the trees and spread over South Buffalo lawns.

As a child, I pressed each color sample between the pages of my scrapbook. A giant pile of raked leaves furnished a lively playground for me and my friends while the smell of burning leaves filled our noses and our imaginations.

Autumn signaled the end of the harvest, and an unparalleled display of food on my Italian grandmother's table reflected the bounty: eggplant Parmesan, Florentine spinach, fried or stuffed peppers and onions, fresh tomato sauce, pumpkin strata and zucchini sausage loaf.

Macintosh apples, not too sweet, just tart enough, were the only apples I would eat. Except for the Granny Smith apples that grandma Sullivan put in her pies every Saturday morning.

Gran lived down the street and if I woke up early enough, I helped sift the flour, roll out the dough, sprinkle sugar and cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon over the pared, sliced apples. Gran was an early riser and I didn't always get there in time, so she left me dough and apples on the cupboard to roll out my own apple tart.

In the autumn, dad lined up my fingers on the laces of a football and taught me how to make it spin in the air. Judy and I played touch football with the boys because we were the only girls who could catch and throw the ball.

In the fall of my junior year of high school, I was assigned Sister Mary Thaddeus as my homeroom teacher. "Mildred Gertrude Cusella," she said, "that's a mouthful. I think it's about time somebody around here just called you Trudy." It was the first time in 13 years of Catholic education that a nun called me by my nickname. I loved Sister Mary Thaddeus -- for all seasons.

It was in the autumn of my teen years that a girlfriend pointed to a flock of geese headed south and said, "That's my wedding." I always waited for the biggest flock and then I said it, too. When I discovered it had something to do with the size of one's wedding, which meant one actually wanted to get married, I was too embarrassed to say it again. What if heartthrob Tim heard me prattling about weddings? Not cool!

For Halloween and other occasions, Mrs. M. dressed my best friend Tommy in a pink ruffled dress pouffed with petticoats, a blond wig and her high-heeled pumps stuffed with tissue. Our other neighbor, Mrs. T., called him a luckless child who would grow up to be a sissy. I learned to hate costumes.

When my dad went hunting for the "umpteenth" Thanksgiving in a row, my mother said it would serve him right if we weren't there when he came home. But he always came home in time for dinner and the football game, and we were always still there, ready to gorge ourselves with turkey and the fixings.

I would love autumn unconditionally and irreversibly if it were not the harbinger of winter, my least favorite season. As the weather gets colder, colors fade and more things die. Yet by autumn's end, it's Christmas and an ending becomes another beginning.

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