I’m still dragging from this weekend… so durn sleepy. Have I mentioned that I only work 3 days a week now?… Mon, Tues, & Wed. Yeah, it pretty much rocks. Sue came home this past weekend & while she was pulling her winter clothes out of the attic, I pulled my fall decorations as well. Am thinking that tomorrow shall be Fall Decorating Day.

I love fall. I think I’ve said that before, but not this year. It’s my favorite season. I love the colors, the smells, the cool nights, the college football (even though my beloved Clemson Tigers are sucking it this year). I love pumpkins & the rusty golds & russets bursting out of my fall decorations box. I love my little scarecrow that my father dubbed Frederick. I don’t why… he just looked like a Frederick to Daddy, apparently. I love the food that goes with fall — muffins & pies, cobblers & coffee, candy corn &  pumpkins. I find it physically impossible to walk by a bin of those candy pumpkins & not snatch a bag. And mums. I love mums, especially the orangish ones. I always kill at least three pots of mums every fall.

My mother loved fall too. Each September, with the first crispy night, she would start strategizing our family annual Fall Picnic. I capitalize it as a proper noun because in our family, it WAS a proper noun. It was easy when we were younger — Daddy was only off during one weekend a month, & so that was our Fall Picnic weekend. As we got older, though, we began complicating things. We had other plans & people that we wanted to be with, & she had to finangle & manipulate & pull the “Mama’s got watery eyes” card to make us cooperate. Each year, we had the same routine. It went like this:

On Friday night or Saturday morning, pack food (consisting of hot dogs, chili, & condiments).

9-11am: Get everyone assembled & ready to go. The daughters wear coordinating outfits just in case it matters. In later years, participants include boyfriends, fiances, & husbands. Pile into the Green Bean (our pet name for Mama’s green Chrysler Town & Country).

11ish: Head out “the back way.” Take Highway 11 to the Ingles on the Walhalla exit. During the drive, there is much happening. The radio is blaring (because someone is missing something sports-related), someone is arguing (probably Jennifer & Susanna, or possibly Mama & Daddy), & someone is singing nonsensical tunes (probably Mama, or possibly the 3 sisters). Someone is holding their ears & screaming at everyone else to shut it (usually Susanna).

11:30-12pm: We arrive at Ingles in West Union. We fight about who’s going in & who’s not, & who’s paying, & how much we have to spend. We don’t fight about what we’re going to buy, because we buy the same thing every year — hot dog buns, chips, dip, & apple turnovers. Lots of apple turnovers.

12pm: On the road again. We head through Walhalla, the small town that was our high school football rival, & someone makes “Hogwaller” jokes & holds their breath. Through the town we go, & up, up, into the mountains. Mama rolls the windows down & keeps howling “LOOK AT THE LEAVES!!” She takes her leaves-looking very seriously… if she feels that someone isn’t paying enough attention, she gets quite agitated.

12:30-1pm: We arrive at our favorite picnic spot at the top of the hill in Yellow Branch park. In all the years we’ve picnicked, only once or twice has someone dared to take our spot. We trek up the hill & Daddy starts warming the charcoal grill while someone (Mama & girls in the early years, just the girls in later years) drives to the tiny general store for drinks. As we drive up the twisty road toward the store, we blare the horn all the way. I have no idea why.

1:30-3ish: We grill & eat. Sometimes we brawl — Jennifer & Sue rolled around in the leaves one year. Sometimes we chase Oscar through the woods, during the years after he joined our family. Sometimes — often — we sing. We wail out gospel tunes in harmony & roll with laughter. We howl & try to hear our echoes. We also argue, because this is our family, & arguing is what we do. I can’t remember what we argue about — I just know that there’s always something.

3ish: We pack up, head back down the hill to the car, & drive across the road to Issaqueena Falls. The road to the Falls is one lane & hairpin curves. Mama usually drives, taking the curves too fast, making the minivan’s tires squeal, & everyone screams with laughter & fear. A few years, Daddy drives. He’s usually very staid, but Mama needles him into participating & he hits the gas with a crazed look on his face, giggling. It’s such uncharacteristic behavior for him, which makes it all the more entertaining. Daddy’s hardly ever fun — you have to appreciate it when it happens.

We arrive at the Falls & clamor out of the van. We lean too far over the wooden railing & wonder what would happen if we slipped. We take pictures. We sometimes crawl out on the other side of the railing & peer down the 100-ft drop of rushing, roaring water. There’s a large metal pipe that crosses the stream leading to the Falls, & for some reason, Jennifer & I are determined to walk the pipe. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes we have to sit down midway & scoot to safety on our rears. We walk the trails a bit, but we never go all the way to the bottom. It’s just too far & too much trouble to climb back up. We stay until dusk, until the pictures have been snapped, & yet another Annual Family Fall Picnic has been adequately documented.

6-7pm: We head home. The drive back is much quieter than the drive up. We’re tired. We turn the heat on & roll the windows down, feeling the cool autumn sting. And although I didn’t know it at the time, I’m completely content in that dark, warm van with all the people I love the most.

Fall Picnic, 2005