Elliott asked me recently why some people call autumn fall. I told him I didn’t really know.
“Maybe it’s because that’s when the leaves fall”, he said.
“I actually think it’s because that’s when electric bills fall,” I offered as an alternative.
He didn’t laugh. Probably because I wasn’t joking. Turns out it was a joke, though. A joke on me.
I should have known what kind of a fall I was in for when on a recent Saturday morning Katie asked me if I would take the boys to Walmart to pick up a small, $10 gift for Ian to take to a birthday party he was attending later that day. No problem, I told her. We’d simply do a quick tour of the toy section, grab the first fun looking item we came across - and to a 3 year old boy little is disqualified from that in the toy section - and then we’d be on our way home. Ian would have his gift. I would be settling back in my recliner for a long day of college football.
The plan went perfectly. At least for a perfectly brief moment. We’d spent all of five minutes in the first toy aisle we ventured down when we found an Angry Birds game. Ian said his friend would love it. It was under 10 bucks. And “go to Walmart” was about to get checked off my Saturday honey-do list quicker than a Dale Earnhardt Jr. pit stop at Daytona. I was about to put the peddle to the metal and race into my victory lap when we saw him. Donald.
We didn’t know him as Donald at the time. At that moment we knew him as an inflated ghost rising high above the top shelf in the middle of the Halloween section. A section far removed from the toys. But inexplicably we were suddenly standing beneath him. Part balloon. Part Casper. I looked up at him and I swear I saw him wink and smile.
“Daddy, I wish we had one of those for our yard,” said Ian – or Elliott – or both at the exact same time, pleading like this 12 foot high lawn ornament was suddenly the most important thing in their lives. I took hold of the price tag and sized up the damage. I looked at the boys. They looked back, studying my every move. Then I took one more look at the ghost. His smile now replaced by something far more similar to the longing looks on the boys next to me. I bent over and picked up one of the boxes that contained what was now our ghost. Ian and Elliott broke into celebration. And somewhere in the midst of that celebrating they decided to call our ghost Donald. I don’t know why. I don’t know why they call fall fall. And I don’t know why we call our ghost Donald.
I’d like to say that ended our trip to Walmart to pick up a $10 birthday gift, but it didn’t. We collected a couple of skeletons, one with flashing lights, the other just plain bones. They now hang on the front porch where flowers hung all summer long. There is something very Halloweenish about replacing dying flowers with skeletons. We also picked up a half dozen lighted plastic pumpkins that we stuck in the ground along the sidewalk. Needless to say, there was far less football that Saturday than I originally planned for.
The following Sunday we took what has become our annual trip to the apple festival on Graves Mountain. The boys were looking forward to it, mainly because they wanted to get their pumpkins to carve. It was a beautiful day. The boys hung out along a mountain stream and watched some of the older boys catch crawdads. They ran around through the rolled straw mazes, and climbed the stacked rolls like they were mountains. It was a boys being boys day.
When it was time to go, I told Katie I would carry our chairs and other stuff we had collected throughout the day to the car and then come back and help carry the pumpkins that she and the boys would pick out while I was gone. When I returned, I asked her which pumpkins the boys had picked out. “They’re sitting on them”, she said. I guess I didn’t notice right away because it looked very much like they were sitting on chairs. Large chairs. I took a look at the pumpkins, then glanced up at the booth where I would have to pay for them. On a shelf along the front of the booth was a row of pumpkins that grew in size, and beneath them their prices which also grew accordingly. My eyes rolled down the line until they reached a pumpkin the size of the ones the boys were sitting on. I then hesitantly looked beneath it at the price.
I looked around to see if Donald was somewhere winking at me.
By the time I was done paying for the pumpkins, and donating to the Boy Scouts who helped carry them to the car, miraculously without the aid of a crane, I had dismissed my theory about falling electric bills. Fall wasn’t draining those bills nearly as fast as it was blowing away our checking account.
I must say that I am grateful that when we carved the pumpkins the following weekend, I didn’t have to invest in a chainsaw like I thought I might. A large butcher knife from the kitchen did the trick. I counted that a huge financial gain.
The boys went trick or treating last night. I am glad that Halloween has finally come to a close. But in our house it is only the beginning of the craziness to come. Ian turns 4 this weekend. Then Thanksgiving. Then Elliott turns 6. Then Christmas. And then I think I will join Donald in a box in the shed for a long winter’s nap.