“I hope I can be the autumn leaf, who looked at the sky and lived. And when it was time to leave, gracefully it knew life was a gift.”
It's been a highly unusual, and disappointing, year for so many reasons but three things have given me calm and serenity over the past eight months since Covid-19 came into my life and yours: gazing at the ocean, watching my sons play youth baseball and most recently, viewing an array of colors decorating the trees of my yard, and my workplace here in Mount Olivet.
The Coronavirus had little to no impact on my experiences with the three, fore-mentioned activities at all. Sadly, winter will put a damper on things for a while as baseball is shut-down until next spring, and I won’t be able to spend relaxing days sitting on the beach (and certainly don't plan on swimming) until next April at the earliest. As for the leaves, my boys and I spent several hours last weekend with yard-work, raking and bagging for proper removal. Meanwhile, here at the cemetery, the Technicolor performance is about complete as well. There are more leaves on the ground than on the trees.
This past week, I gave extra attention to watching our hard-working grounds crew enact their annual process of clearing 100 acres of “the gifts of autumn," slowly browning as they crumple. That's right, for those of you who dread cleaning up the leaves in your own yard, just think about the five staff members we assign this "arboreal" task.
This week's "Story in Stone" is no more than an ode to the beautiful foliage that graces our Mid-Atlantic domicile. Thankfully, Covid-19 didn't spoil the leaf-peep show as the vibrancy of different colors on trees is as varied as the face coverings we have been required to don this year. As October turned to November, we find ourselves fast approaching the kickoff of the holiday season with a true weather turning point in December. The brilliant leaves are dissipating, but unfortunately Covid-19 is not following suit. I have to laugh in thinking that unlike us humans, the trees certainly don't look better unmasked.
Below is a time lapse photo documentation of a favorite tree in my personal backyard, here in Frederick. It is an aptly named maple tree called "Autumn Blaze." The three photos below represent different stages over a 40-day duration from October 11th-November 20th.
In case you were wondering, autumn 2020 began on September 22nd and runs through December 21st. It is defined as the season of the year between summer and winter during which temperatures gradually decrease. It has taken on the more common name of “fall” in the United States due to the fact that leaves fall from the trees at this time.
Author Natalie Wolchover wrote an article about the season moniker (autumn) in October, 2012 for a website titled LiveScience. Here is a poignant snippet:
"Autumn," a Latin word, first appears in English in the late 14th century, and gradually gained on "harvest, the original name for the season." In the 17th century, "fall" came into use, almost certainly as a poetic complement to "spring," and it competed with the other terms.
Finally, in the 18th century, "harvest" had lost its seasonal meaning altogether, and "fall" and "autumn" emerged as the two accepted names for the third season. But by the 19th century, "fall" had become an "Americanism": a word primarily used in the United States and one that was frowned upon by British lexicographers.
The persistence of two terms for the third season in the United States, while somewhat of a mystery, may have something to do with the spread of English to the American continent at the very epoch when "fall" began jockeying for position with "autumn": the 17th century. At that time, both terms were adopted stateside, and the younger, more poetic "fall" gained the upper hand. Back in Britain, however, "autumn" won out. The continued acceptance of "autumn" in the United States may reflect the influence, or at least the proximity, of English culture and literature.
I have had a few outside meetings this past year for social distancing purposes, an opportunity to walk and talk in the same vein of outdoor dining and church services. While chatting with a potential college student intern for next spring, I made an amazing discovery just a few yards off a paved lane that aligns Area LL. I spotted a several nearby flaglets (placed for Veterans Day) that had been toppled by strong winds earlier in the week. These gusts were equally troublesome in hurrying the magically colored foliage to ground. As I walked back out to the lane and rejoined my guest, my eye was caught by a gravesite and name I had never noticed before.
Talk about irony, as not only had I been focused intently on leaves for the last few weeks, they have made me smile in this most depressing of years. I shared the find with my meeting companion and promptly took a few pictures on my smartphone. Once back at my desk and done with said meeting, I went in search of Leafy F. Smiley.
I first checked our cemetery database and found that she was appropriately born in spring time, like many others sharing her name. Here’s the computer-generated entry on Leafy F. Smiley:
Like “a candle in the wind” or, in our case, an autumn leaf on a tree in the same circumstance, Leafy Frances Smiley’s time here on Earth was unfortunately cut short. She grew up with two older brothers Lester Smiley (1904-1986 buried in Indian Gap Cemetery in Annville, Pennsylvania) and Golden C. (1908-1980 died in Bowie, MD). Leafy attended local schools and was the daughter of a noted mason from a long line of men specializing in the trade of bricklaying.
As a matter of fact, Leafy’s father, John William Smiley worked in this profession for over forty years as did three of his brothers. A native of Spring Creek, Virginia, he was a son of a brickmason and was descended from an early pioneer, George Smiley, a bricklayer who came to New York City about 1700 from northern England. Leafy’s mother was the former Alberta Mae Sherfey of Otterbine District, Rockingham County, Virginia. She gave birth to four children before Leafy, however two died in infancy (Mervin in 1905 and John William Jr. in 1907 and both are buried in Otterbine, VA).
I would later find that our subject was quite popular and possessed many friends. Leafy attended Frederick High and graduated in 1931. I saw brief newspaper mentions of attendance at area school functions and social events but not much more. I also stumbled over two family trials that luckily didn't end in tragedy for the Smiley family although terrible unto themselves and for others.
Leafy survived the car crash just a few months after graduation. However, she would die four years later, in the heart of summer. Miss Smiley passed on July 23rd, 1935, apparently after a long illness according to her obituary. She would be buried in Area AA/Lot 11 two days later.
In locating Leafy's interment card in our cemetery files, I found that she died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Her father would join his daughter in the family plot just four years later upon his death from a pulmonary hemorrhage at age 67 in 1939. Mrs. Alberta Smiley would die in 1954.
Leafy F. Smiley’s grave is shaded by a tree, but it’s no ordinary one. It's a Bradford Pear, and one here in the cemetery that appears to keep its leaves longer than any others around it. With a bit of quick research, I found that this variety of tree regularly has short lifespans and the color often develops very late in autumn resulting in leaves being killed by a hard frost before full color can develop. To me this seems fitting as Miss Leafy Smiley died before having time show her true colors. I wonder if friends and loved ones made the same parallel between your name, vivid life and premature death throughout the autumn of 1935? Rest in peace Miss Smiley, like those leaves as they find their landing places.