Autumn Leaf Burning

A story by: Jean McGavin | Added: 2012
Arlington, Virginia
1950s

Olfactory memories, are perhaps the most evocative. As a child growing up in the 1950’s in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, one of those evocative memories for me is the smell of burning leaves. It was common to rake our leaves into a large pile at the curb and burn them in the street, one pile in front of each house. These were dramatic events, with flames and charged with warnings to us children to stay away — and I loved the smell. It heralded fall which in Virginia did not have the threat of heavy snow, rather the promise of a few snowy days – and possible school snow days. This aroma of burning leaves is a smell that is lost, for the best no doubt, but it was a smell from a time that is now in our past and if I find the smell now in the air, I am transported to the 50’s, to post-war optimism, suburbia, to a time when children were free to wander in the woods, our dogs running off leash, free to collect candy on Halloween without our parents and freedom or perhaps naiveté to ride bicycles without helmets, parents or even shoes.