Rise up, Harvest Moon

Carol and I sat on the front porch in our rockers, sipping a ‘Little Woody’ Semi Dry Red from Sleepy Creek Vineyards and watched the Harvest Moon rise.

It’s unusual this year that the Harvest Moon, the first full moon after the Autumnal Equinox, happened in September. And this evening, the cloudless sky presented a stunning silent show:  the full Harvest Moon rising through the spruce trees out at the end of our front yard.

In the olden days, long before lighted farm equipment, the Harvest Moon provided the light to stay in the fields long into evening to get the crops in. Now we just sit back and enjoy the show as our minds wander….

Autumn is a pensive time; this year in particular, as I passed the half century mark earlier in September.  I think about family. In October, I always pause to remember my Dad, the well balanced Libra, born October 10. And even though he passed in 1998, I still think he’s responsible for my life here on the Sangamon River.

My Dad instilled in my younger sister Amy, my older brother Randy and I a life and love of the water. As far back as I can remember we owned a canoe; our first one was made of wood.

Amy became a competitive swimmer and a diver, like our grandfather, Henry Page Hays, the dashing diver and silver tongued salesman. According to family lore, a few years after high school, Henry met the more studious and well educated Melda Stevens. Melda had shunned him in high school, but now she fell to his charms and they never looked back.

In the 40’s they bought and moved to a YMCA camp near Pittsburgh with a spring fed Olympic size swimming pool. I remember swimming in that pool growing up. Chlorine free and crystal clear, it was the most refreshing and downright coldest pool I ever remember. I also remember the bicycles we rode down the hillside up our jump ramp and into the pool. Crazy kids.

Most of my family is from Pittsburgh, but in an intriguing subplot, Henry’s mother, Bessie Hamilton, embarked on a quest to find her father in the late 1890’s. Her father, Frank Hamilton, had abandoned Bessie and her mother when Bessie was 3, after the Civil War in the mid 1870’s.

With the able assistance of one Clarence Wilbur Hays, who met her while she was working at a drug store, she found her father living in far off Beardstown, Illinois, where the Sangamon River meets the Illinois River. I had a picture of Bessie in the Sangamon River at Beardstown from the 1920’s. And for his trouble, she married Clarence.

My sister Amy and I visited Frank Hamilton’s grave in Beardstown a few years back, completing a cycle that resulted in his great great grandson moving 140 miles upstream from Beardstown on the Sangamon River.  

My brother Randy bought a ski boat as soon as he could afford such extravagances, which like most boats he enjoyed tremendously until it fell into disrepair. Then he didn’t. Since then, he’s had a pool in his backyard, not quite Olympic size, but an above the ground pool perfect for cooling down the hot Florida days. My sister just put up a pool in her backyard this year, but at 4 feet deep, she’s not doing much diving. Just relaxing and cooling down after work in the balmy Florida evenings. Her kids, Kayleigh and Dillan, are certified lifeguards.

I became the canoeist, canoeing the Okefenokee Swamp with my buddies on the weekends when most normal kids my age were going to football games and high school dances. When I was 19, my buddies and I were looking for a fourth person to join us for an extended canoe camping excursion into the Swamp. And I asked my Dad along.

If you know 19 year olds, few want to spend weekends in a swamp with their Dad, but my Dad was always the outdoorsman, always the scoutmaster, and he fit right in with my buddies and me. He loved to tell the story of our little group swimming one of the few lakes far out in the Okefenokee on a hot afternoon. Then after dark, we paddled out on the same lake, shined the flashlight at the shore and saw the watchful orange eyes of the alligators reflecting back all around us. For him and for me, this would become a trip we would remember always. He probably still does.

As I stare at the moon with my wandering thoughts, I imagine Dad would’ve liked the Sangamon River. And I would’ve liked for us to have been able to canoe the Sangamon together. And sometimes it’s pretty easy to imagine he’s right here beside me enjoying it too. Right here within me.

So rise up, Harvest Moon, bring on the bountiful Autumn. A toast to you from our front porch. Bring on the memories of the fading summer and the past long gone. Bring on the winter. And continue the cycle of life that runs from father to son and down through the generations. Rise up.  

Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, October 4, 2012, by Scott Hays

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