Creative Nonfiction American

This story contains sensitive content

Content Warning: Mentions of shooting living things with BB guns

The neighbors just canโ€™t stand leaves on their lawn.ย 

Even though theyโ€™re both advanced in years, if we donโ€™t rake up the leaves and do something with them, fast, Mr. McGregor and his wife will both be outside, picking up the fallen foliage and stuffing it into plastic trash bags.ย Annoyed as I may be, I don't want to let them do that.

I wish we didn't have to rake. Why can't they just leave the leaves alone? I like shuffling through them, hearing the sounds they make, and seeing them blow along the ground.

Yet here I am with my dad, raking. And thinking. Thatโ€™s the nice thing about doing a simple task: I can go somewhere else in my head.

Dad grew up almost kiddy-corner to Mr. McGregor. He says my grandpa, his dad, had a very different philosophy concerning leaves: โ€œIf ya leave โ€˜em there long enough, theyโ€™ll blow into someone elseโ€™s yard.โ€ There were several leafy trees in Grandpaโ€™s yard; there are none in Mr. McGregorโ€™s, and according to my dadโ€™s knowledge, there never have been. Dad chuckles, โ€œI donโ€™t think he could handle that.โ€

Mr. McGregor has kids. His daughter was best friends with my dadโ€™s little sister. Once, when they were young, my dad was presented with a gift-wrapped parcel by his sister and her friend. Upon opening it, he found a peach pit. The girls guffawed with glee. Their trick had worked splendidly!ย 

Years later, when my aunt was in college, she received a care package from her family. One of the items inside was a small box from her older brother, accompanied by a note: โ€œWhoโ€™s laughing now?โ€ Heโ€™d sent her a peach pit.ย 

Mr. McGregor also has a son. He played baseball with all the other neighborhood kids in dadโ€™s front yard, but โ€œThe relationship with Matt wasโ€ฆcomplicated.โ€ He was sometimes a bit of a bully to the younger kids.ย 

One day, Mr. McGregorโ€™s son took my auntieโ€™s jump rope. My dad was watching from an upstairs bedroom window. Having his BB gun handy, and being overwhelmed by the injustice of it all, he took careful aim and fired, intending to ping a BB off Mattโ€™s bike and startle him.ย 

His aim was off, and he hit the boy in the leg instead.

โ€œI see you!โ€ Matt shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the unintentional sniper. โ€œI see you! Iโ€™m going to tell my dad!โ€ He hopped onto his bike and pedaled furiously down the street. My dad decided to sit tight in his bedroom.ย 

Presently there was a knock on the door, and he heard Mr. McGregor saying, โ€œMatt says Joey shot him.โ€ย 

His own fatherโ€™s voice echoed up the stairs. โ€œJoey! Did you shoot Matt?โ€


He heard his father say, โ€œOkay,โ€ and close the door. It was an accident, but some people say Matt had it coming to him.ย 

Itโ€™s funny how everyone still refers to my dad as Joey. Little old men and women, who used to be his teachers in days of yore, come smiling up to this six-foot-four man and say, โ€œHello, Joey, and how are you?โ€ Even Mr. McGregor often refers to him as Joey.ย 

Mr. McGregorโ€ฆthatโ€™s not really his name. Itโ€™s just a nickname we have for him, since he used to get so angry about the wild rabbits eating his garden. Donโ€™t misunderstand me, we love our neighbors, but we love the rabbits, too.ย 

Mom saw him from an upstairs window one morning when it was barely light out, standing between two trucks with a BB gun, shooting at something. She thought he might be dispatching one of our little friends, and went to check on us, thinking we might be traumatized if we heard the gun shots. We were all still asleep, and she resolved not to tell anyone.ย ย 

Days later, when Mom was hanging up laundry outside, Mr. McGregor came up to her, grinning. โ€œHowโ€™re your rabbits?โ€ he inquired.

She tried not to respond about the rabbits, but as he kept inquiring, and talking about how they were such a pain, always eating his garden, she finally put her hands on her hips and said, โ€œWe donโ€™t have rabbits anymore, since you killed them!โ€ย 

His face wrinkled into a mischievous grin. โ€œAhhh, that old gun doesnโ€™t shoot straight anyways. I was right on top of 'em and couldnโ€™t even hit 'em.โ€

He calls them โ€˜ourโ€™ rabbits because he knows we put out vegetable scraps for them to eat. They like to hang around our yard.ย 

One morning, I saw a very small rabbit sitting near a larger one, presumably a mother and her baby. A chipmunk ran past, and the baby rabbitโ€™s head turned, ears perked, tracking its pathโ€”then he gave chase, bounding after the striped curiosity. After a couple yards of travel, he stopped to look about himself, losing track of the chipmunk. His mother followed him, but he darted away. This game went on for several minutes, until mother rabbit seemed to have had enough chasing. She went off in another direction, leaving the little one to his own devices.ย 

The baby rabbit stood up against a plant in our garden and chewed on a leaf. Then he rolled about on a small pile of loose dirt weโ€™d recently dumped, rubbing his back into it and scooting along, exposing his white undersides and apparently getting as dirty as possible. Then he disappeared into the taller growth of the garden.ย 

The chipmunks are fun to watch, too. They come closer to us than the rabbits. My sister has tamed one to the point that it will sit in our hands and eat sunflower seeds. The chipmunk will even let us stroke herโ€”but only if we use the back of our hand. Our theory is she feels like weโ€™re trying to catch her if we reach out with our palms down and our fingers outstretched. With our palms and fingers up, she can run away faster than we can grab her. And yes, we know itโ€™s a female for sure. We read about how to determine the sex of a chipmunk.

After stuffing their cheeks, the chipmunks often run inside the garage. We found the place on a shelf where they eat at least some of their seeds: a bunch of black hulls are scattered on the floor underneath.

Raking almost finished, we have a huge mound of leaves. Dad rests his rake on the ground and looks hard at what weโ€™ve done.ย 

โ€œWhat ifโ€ฆwe just pile it all up against the side of the garage?โ€

โ€œWhy not?" I reply happily. "Then we donโ€™t have to take them to the brush dump.โ€ย 

The two of us sweep the leaves across the yard and make an enormous drift against the side of our garage. As Dad goes to put his rake away, I look around, realizing that all of those things Iโ€™ve been thinking about happened right here. Right here is where we feed the chipmunks. I can see the place in the garden where the baby rabbit played. Over there is Mr. McGregorโ€™s yard, where we started raking. Beyond it, across the street, is the house where Dad grew up.ย 

I smile. The people, the places, the biotaโ€”the seemingly insignificant and mundane, woven together with memory, forms a life.

December 10, 2022 02:28

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02:52 Dec 12, 2022

The title caught my eye. I got a dark vibe from it, like we were gathering our fallen friends, but this is lighter - it's gathering memories. (And of course leaves.) A lot of the memories are indirect, about the narrator's father, though some are the narrator's own as well. It's clear they've lived in this area for a long time - generations - and so have the neighbours. So, we have a tiny area of land, and yet it's filled with history, for those who know where to look. What I like is that the history isn't just about the people, but also a...


Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate your critique, and I've edited a bit. If you have time, I would appreciate your reading it again and letting me know what you think.


21:34 Dec 12, 2022

Yeah, I see there's some subtle changes at the beginning, but I think they add a lot. Now there's a shift in the narrator's attitude, and the piece seems less observation and more realization. More personal - even though it's obviously about personal memories. But it ties those memories to today more strongly.


Thank you so very much for your time. I greatly appreciate your help. The words of your first comment helped me to dig more deeply into my memories to form the opening, and into my thoughts to form the ending.


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