As dusk approached, I looked up and saw the big, round orange moon in the sky. I thought the sky was falling.
I was in the family car with my mom. 1960 something. We were headed west on Illinois 15 past the old Cahokia Downs Race Track on the right. Illinois 15 was known as “460” back then. Headed to my grandparent’s home in Centreville. If there was a man on the moon, I swear that I could have seen him walking on that pumpkin moon that clear, autumn night.
I got a quick science lesson from my Mom.
“That’s a Harvest Moon,” she said. “A sure sign summer’s over. Cold weather’s coming. Christmas before you know it ...”
I had never noticed a Harvest Moon before. I didn’t spend much time in my childhood gazing at the stars, sky or moon. Usually, I was on a ballfield or backyard. When I first saw the moon as dusk approached, I knew it was time to speed up the game to get it done before darkness.
In the 1960s, there was a lot of talk in school and on the news about putting a man on the moon. Boys wanted to be astronauts. Not me, though. I wanted to be a baseball player. Or a school janitor like Abby. Abby had 1,000 keys on his ring. He had a key to every door in our school, gym and church. Abby was a man with power.
I went home that autumn night and pulled the encyclopedias from the box in the bedroom closet. Encyclopedias were our Internet, our only source of information and research. I’m sure my parents had them in the closet for moments just like this one when one of us boys would got curious about school and education.
I ate a lot of Moon Pies.
Mike Shannon’s nickname was Moon Man.
Was it really made of cheese?
Science wasn’t my thing.
For some reason, on this night, that harvest moon fascinated me. I didn’t understand much inside that encyclopedia. But I learned a little more about harvest moons that night. I learned that a harvest moon only happens in the fall — the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox in September.
I learned that a harvest moon is not actually a bigger or fatter moon. It’s an optical illusion. I didn’t know what an optical illusion was then either. Mom explained to me that what you see isn’t always what you get. I didn’t understand the explanation then but it was great advice as I got older, and about more than the moon.
Why is a harvest moon orange? I learned it has nothing to do with the harvest moon but something about the moon and the sun both look redder when they’re by the horizon. I preferred my theory that a harvest moon magically turns into a big pumpkin to welcome the fall season.
Fall is my favorite season
Harvest moons are a reason why this time of year is my favorite season. Pumpkin weather. Changing colors. Morning frosts. Football. The World Series. I like this time of year because it’s not yet Daylight Saving Time and there is enough daylight for meaningful purpose to evenings.
I like this time of year most because it’s the start of hockey season. I hate to see this Summer of Champions end. Hockey may never be better in St. Louis than it was during summer 2019. But I’m ready for a repeat.
I like this time of year because it’s the last pause before the holiday season. No holiday sales yet. No dreams of a white Christmas. I like this time of year most because I can hear Neil Young’s song, “Harvest Moon” and it seems so seasonal even though the old song is about a lost love and not the big, fat orange moon overhead. I’m looking forward to seeing another pumpkin in the sky. It reminds me of that simple car conversation with my late mom many falls ago on Highway 460 near the old Cahokia Downs Race Track.
On the way to my grandparent’s home. I thought the sky was falling.
And learning a little more from the set of encyclopedias in our closet.
It will remind me summer’s over and cold weather, early nights and Christmas are just around the corner.