Post title: Legally Blind, at 60 Still Joyously Raking Leaves.
After Dad passed away, each fall Mom and I raked up the leaves. It gave us a time to chat while accomplishing a task. We loved the time and sense of accomplishment. As Mom reached her eighties, she struggled and I took over the raking. But she kept up on my progress. It usually took me three or four days with all our leaves. The year she passed away, I missed her so much, I let the leaves rot in the yard. And that went on for a couple years. Oh, I raked, but only enough to get the worst off the porch or driveway. The rest lay, sodden and wet, darkening the ground all winter. They also left me feeling dank and depressed. I should have gotten them up.
Indian Summer and Turning 60.
But this year several things happened. I turned sixty and the sun came out. Also, my childhood friend moved into her own house. She always motivates me to live a fuller life. Running? Let’s go! Set aside one day to clean the house? Great idea! So when she raked the leaves in her yard – only an hour per day as she had been having some back problems – I found our rake and set out to make a difference.
Indian summer had arrived in November, but at exactly the right time in my life. The sun glistened off the leaves. How could I not want to rake? I bundled up in a thick hoodie and threw on a pair of blue jeans, running socks and sneakers. I felt energetic! After only an hour, I peeled off my hoodie, pushed up my sleeves and let the warmth steal over me as I scooted across our back yard, each boundary providing me with a memory. The poles where my mom used to hang her laundry. The old pump dad watered his garden from. The decaying fence boundary cut from telephone poles that once stood up straight, delineating where our property ended and the neighbor’s began.
In the years since I last raked, I had lost more vision. Being legally blind had its own challenges. But I didn’t have the limitations my friend with a bad back did. I compensated for my sight loss in the ways I could and reveled in the wonderful act of gathering leaves up. One of the accommodations I made: blue-tinted recycling bags. The blue contrast helped me to see the bags better. The wide-toothed rake Dad used for his tree business caught up more than the spindly rakes most bought at the hardware store. When my eyes swept over the part of the yard I raked, I found I had missed many of the leaves. But that didn’t bother me. I could always go over that part of the yard again. I wasn’t looking for perfection. I wanted to simply experience.
With every sweep of the rake, I unearthed pleasant memories. My dad’s face with his sardonic grin inviting me to jump into a pile of leaves. I recall how he stepped back and waved to the pile with his rake. His cap is askew, his grey trousers grass-stained. What I remember is that moment in our front yard. The experience. I recall the smells of acrid leaves burning a few houses down. Time with my dad.
And then in fifth grade, Dad put together a hayride for my birthday. I invited every single classmate. Dad never lacked for vehicles or contraptions. On this date, he attached his tractor or truck, can’t remember which now, to a long rectangular grey steel wagon filled with hay. Off we went through town breathing in the sweet hay. We would have cake and cider when we returned, and we would bob for apples. As the sun shone on my raking, I could almost smell those apples from so long ago.
As the breeze twirled some of the leaves from my own pile, I glimpsed a memory of my dad with “the girls,” my nieces, treating them to an afternoon of fun at the land. Then the bonfire for some celebration of Emily’s – maybe her birthday—in September. He added more and more gas to the leave bonfire. Her classmates ooh’d and ah’d as the fire leapt high in the sky. How dad loved to make others smile!
Then that magical time when I came home to heal from the loss of my twins. I worked for dad. One day, one perfect day, I saw a tree filled with yellowish, golden leaves. It reminded me of a turn-of-the-century ballroom dancer. She had a full skirt and bent into the wind, as if holding a parasol. The beauty and perfectly rounded golden carpet beneath her dress transfixed me. That wasn’t part of my job but I beheld the grandeur each time I passed the tree to get equipment. When my dad stopped on his morning break, I pointed it out and he cocked his head, as if seeing what I saw. He smiled and gave me the thumb’s up sign before leaving toward his old ’39 pick-up truck. I wonder how I could have been so fortunate to have seen so many autumns and shared so many special moments with my dad.
I leaned another bag against the garage, recalling a much later memory of Dad raking the leaves. He wore his brown winter jacket, tweed cap and work gloves. Gone were the dress shoes he wore even for raking leaves. He had on blue jeans instead of trousers. I saw him bend over and pick some leaves out of the bushes. His bad knees creaked and he moved more slowly. He filled the leaves into a wheelbarrow now. When he reached his wagon in the back driveway, he lowered the back and steered the wheelbarrow up onto it, slowly dumped them out, guiding the most stubborn ones with his hands. I was leaving for the Emirates again. At this last memory, tears dripped down my cheeks. I wiped them away and set the seventh bag down by the garage. The air had turned cooler and soon the darkness would set in. That was enough raking for one day.
The next day, my legs hurt.
Second Day of Raking.
But the morning after that, I felt up to more raking.
What a privilege to carry on the tradition of gathering up our fall leaves! At sixty, I felt like a college student with boundless energy and even though I couldn’t see the leaves clearly, I could feel the crisp edges. The earthy smell that accompanied them seemed sweet and brimming with the promise of future life.
I recalled how Dad’s black Labs, Missy and Elmo buried their noses in the fallen leaves and dragged their bodies joyfully through them, their expressions gleeful. Mom said, “Look at those crazy dogs,” with affection, and Dad cursed at them with fondness.
Mom was much more task-oriented than Dad. After he passed away, she took the duty on with me. She wanted to get the job done, to get dinner on the table, or later, to relax with a book. The cold seeped into her bones and she often wiped her nose with a tissue. I did most of the raking and she held the bags open. I laughed recalling her expression when I completely missed the bag and tossed the leaves on her – not on purpose, mind you – that legally blind bit interrupting the process. But it made me playful. And she didn’t mind too much. She just shook a finger at me, her smile real, her face softened and patient. I loved seeing her with hair matted down covered with a bright yellow knitted cap, an old jacket of my dad’s, the edge of her long johns showing beneath her pant legs. She wore my dad’s old leather work gloves.
We chatted about her jobs through the years, always seeming to end up on her tying or picking purple grapes at the Boyce fruit farm. “You’ll never know how hard a job that was, and how tired I felt. But I had to come home and make a hot dinner.” Rosie (her best friend), who worked alongside her, had to drive back to Erie and cook dinner too. That was the way mothers were back then. Always wanted to make hot meals. I knew what she would say next and it made me smile in advance. “I still can’t believe you stole that grape wine Mr. Boyce gave me, and drank it the night you graduated from high school.” It was the token gift of her employer. Mom would have never drunk it. To this day, I’m not sure why I felt the need to take it. I must have felt invincible that evening in May of 1978 as I stood at the threshold of my life. Alcohol, and especially, wine, was not my beverage of choice. My go-to drink was Coca Cola or apple cider. But seeing that bottle of grape wine tempted me that night. I ended up with others in my class at the lake. In the darkness, I stumbled at the water’s edge. It could have been the giddy feeling that ran through me. But my stumbling probably had more to do with my as-of-then unknown vision loss.
When Mom didn’t have the balance anymore to even hold the bags, she would watch me out the front window, tapping on the glass pane. She smiled and made a fist as if she thought I was still strong and doing well. She always thanked me for “cleaning the leaves” out of the yard. And I loved it. I felt as if were my gift to her.
Somehow as the memories came to me, the work had seemed effortless. I had bundled and feeling as I pulled the drawstrings tight, I tied the bags closed. The sun shone strong and I just had the final section of the back yard to do. I took the last three bags out of the recycling package in the garage and opened the bags up. The crisp leaves weighed nothing at all. I felt connected to my family, and full of energy. In less than an hour, I filled the three bags and tied them off. In all, I had eighteen bags.
The Gift of Experience.
Whenever I ask what to give my niece’s kids for their birthdays or Christmas, she always states the best gifts are those of “experience.” This year, when Indian summer, my 60th birthday, and my childhood friend’s move came together, I could not have had a better experience raking leaves. Being legally blind didn’t hamper me a bit. I’m not a perfectionist. I did my job the best I could and let the rest go. I have inherited the sense of fun from my dad and the desire to get a job done from my mom.
At sixty, I feel capable, independent and accomplished. That God has given me unstoppable ability to rake my family’s leaves fills me with joy. I want others who are legally blind to experience the same confidence, because it comes from within.
Looking past sight loss is a gift we can give ourselves again and again.