It was a daytime chore, every October,
on the Eisenhower-era city block
where I lived
with dozens of postwar baby boom kids.
The bigger kids raked
mountains of leaves,
soft, scratchy, colorful.
The little kids, giggling,
would scatter them about,
scolded for it.
And then a grownup would light a match,
and the white smoke rose
to the blue autumn sky,
pungent, acrid, sweet.
As the leaves reduced to ashes,
some suitably responsible adult figure
would lean on a rake and watch the fire,
thinking his or her own thoughts.
But then sometime around 1960
scientists found that particulate pollution
from 'residential yard waste burning'
in the ever-spreading suburbs
irritated the lungs.
Local governments posted various warnings,
and the practice stopped.
People's behavior changed.
Their idea of what was right and wrong changed.
The grown-ups stopped burning leaves
(so now we get bulging plastic bags waiting for pickup.)
I may nostalgically miss that white smoke
and the Autumn raking rituals.
But above all,
I miss that sensible postwar society
where people listened to the scientists,
and the grownups were in charge,
instead of the kids scattering the leaves.