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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

Autumn is here!!! I’m so excited! Temps are cooler, leaves are changing, the bugs are (slowly) dying. We can light fires in the fireplace, go to the apple orchard, even though we don’t go very often, and celebrate Oktoberfest over at the neighbors’ house. Fall is my favorite season of the year. Winter is Michigan is beautiful, but evilly cold and sloppy. I loathe the heat and humidity of summer. Spring is nice, although too short as we tend to jump right from winter to summer here, but autumn has all of the feels that I adore. It’s a welcome respite after sweating since the middle of May, about a week after it stops snowing. No kidding: we had the air conditioning on less than a week after turning the heat off this year, 50 degrees to 95 degrees in a couple of days. Anything over 82 makes me want to melt, so these last couple weeks of beautiful weather has been a balm for the soul. The 75% cool weather British Isles/Northern European mutt part of me trumps the 25% hot weather Sicilian part every time.

Some of my favorite memories of fall were made when I was working for Greenfield Village. For those who are not Michiganders, Greenfield Village is an 80-acre complex that is a part of The Henry Ford, an institution founded by Henry Ford in 1929, an outdoor museum consisting of many buildings, most original, some not, that are important to American history. I worked there for almost eleven years, mostly in the Village, and loved every bit of it. It’s a serious thrill to be around buildings and objects that have seen so much history. I worked in the museum a bit, not as exciting to me, but the majority of my time was spent in the Village.

I worked on Firestone Farm for three years. Firestone Farm is the farmhouse and barn where the tire mogul, Harvey Firestone, was born and raised in Columbiana County, Ohio. It was moved to Greenfield Village, piece by piece, in the 1980s and has since functioned as a working farm from the 1880s. There, I learned to cook on a coal-burning stove, to care for farm animals, and to run a house with no running water, which comes in handy when the kitchen sink breaks. We sheared sheep, butchered pigs, washed dishes by hand, and grew crops on nine acres. They still do. Every season had its chores and jobs, but autumn was the best! It was harvest time, when all of the hard work over the summer was finally coming to an end. The canning was done, no more weeding, and the little kitchen was snug and cozy.

Fall mornings on the farm were my favorite. The walk from the building where we punched in at the time clock to the farmhouse served as a portal through time. With our shawls pulled tight against the chill and bonnets properly on, the employee parking lot gave way to a small pond at Ford Motor Company and then the back barnyard where, if it had been a nice night, the horses were waiting outside for us, particularly my favorite, Mouse. They knew that they were about to get fed so they would follow us along the last bit of the road, snorting, their breath visible in the frosty autumn air as we greeted them. The sun would be just rising when we got there, bathing the house, barn, and frosty fields in a rosy glow. We would crunch down the gravel path, house people and barn people separating and going their ways. Although we knew that very soon, our little world would be filled with visitors, it was, for the moment, our own private farm and we settled into our roles. Outside, animals were fed, the barn was cleaned, cows milked, water barrels filled. Inside the house, the stove and fireplace were cleaned and lit, water was pumped for cooking, dishes, and washing (nothing modern there), cooking started, and coffee beans ground. When the morning chores were done, just before opening, there would be coffee and cheese toast for all in the still-chilly-but-warming-up kitchen. Cheese toast, made of homemade bread, butter, and large slices of muenster or cheddar, toasted in the oven of a coal stove, I’m convinced, is food of the gods. I’ve tried to replicate it at home in the oven and toaster oven, but it is never the same. Those quiet, still, moments are some of my best memories.

Another favorite part of the season was The Headless Horseman, a magical evening program. Back before the Village streets were repaved with curbs, some of us farm folk would act out the story of poor Ichabod Crane and his fateful meeting with the headless Hessian soldier, as written by Washington Irving. We would pile visitors in the horse-drawn wagon and as they traveled through the village, a black-caped storyteller (my Marty) would tell them the tale as it came to life in front of their eyes with real characters and horses. They saw lanky Ichabod, plump-as-a-partridge Katrina Van Tassel, Bram Bones, and other partygoers dancing at the Van Tassel house, normally the Giddings House during the day. The wagon then went where normal visitors never went during the day, into the woods in back of the Village. They watched Ichabod ride away from the party on his borrowed horse, Gunpowder, and followed him through the woods where he met the infamous Headless Horseman, who wore a fabulous costume designed by our period clothing department. The Horseman rode one of our big, black, Percheron horses and would burst out of the woods with an explosion of fire. The entrance was so impressive it terrified our horse that originally played Gunpowder and we had to use a different one. The visitors witnessed the chase through the woods as the wagon raced after them, the woods illuminated by fire barrels, Marty’s voice rising with the action. The chase continued back through the Village, past the Susquehanna Plantation House where the Headless Horseman picked up a flaming pumpkin, just like in the story. They would race on horseback all the way to the covered bridge where, as the story goes, the horseman’s power ended, but by the time the wagon slowed down to approach the bridge, there were only the remains of a smashed pumpkin and Ichabod’s tricorn hat. The schoolmaster was never seen again, at least, not until the next show. After the wagon had crossed through the fog-filled bridge, they would hear the thundering hooves of the giant horse on the wooden planks and would turn to see one last glimpse of the horseman, sword held high, still searching for a head.

That program was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. The horses enjoyed it, too. They would be pacing, raring to go before each performance. We did that program for three seasons and I was able to play Katrina, Headless, and work behind the scenes with lights and props. Unfortunately, the new roads meant that we couldn’t race horses around in the dark anymore, but it was something that we put our hearts and souls into. There’s nothing quite like racing a horse around the Village at night, pounding up a hill and through a bridge through the darkness, praying to God that they can see better than you can. At the end of it all, we would be exhausted, but exhilarated, ready for the next year. They have a very cool Headless Horseman for the Halloween Walk now, but it’s not the same.

My time there was full of moments like that, too many to list here, but every autumn when I can feel the change in the air, my mind returns to those days. I know that I can never go back; the combination of people and circumstances could never be duplicated, but the memories are rich and I treasure them. Oldest child works there now, not on a particular site, but as a seasonal presenter. He gets to work the Halloween Walk this year and I hope he makes as many wonderful memories as I did. I’m a bit sad, though, that he won’t experience what I did. That being said, this seems like a good day to go and wander the Village to relive some memories.

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