A two-block stretch of Oak Park Avenue has been closed off for the annual Halloween Parade on this last Saturday of October. Parents and kids march north to Lake Street under the train viaduct, costumed, bags in hand for the trick-or-treating to come. One twosome, a princess and a witch (which pretty much covers their gender’s parameters) break into a rendition of “Jingle Bells,” supplying their own words. Mom says, “Oh no, we’re not doing that yet.”
But soon enough. We’re heading into the home stretch of the year and the weather makes that indisputably clear — blustery and raw, temps hanging by their fingertips to the 40s, ragged-edged cloud banks rolling overhead, searching for patches of blue to blot out where the overcast has briefly thinned.
But the gamers on the ground are undeterred. Star Wars storm troopers and bishops and wizards and whatnot. And those are just the parents. The kids are furred and whiskered and Harry Pottered and Luke Skywalkered. One girl is a taco. Another is either a warlock or a Supreme Court justice. No Trumps in evidence. This is, after all, a family event.
Continuing on, changes in the leafy canopy become more evident. Brighter colors are finally beginning to dominate, though not so brilliant as in years past, at least not yet. Perhaps that is global warming’s doing (or undoing). The tall prairie garden on the grounds of Cheney Mansion has been cleared, but the sweet residual cinnamon after-scent lingers.
Further along, the weather is not exactly conducive to a comfortable savoring of the last Farmers Market of this year. A few hearty souls huddle with coffee and donuts at the tables, but the informal collection of musicians has called it a season. The vendors, however, have braved the elements and the waning harvest and are here manning and womanning their tables and tents, seeing the growing season to its October denouement.
Friends, who probably met here all summer long, cluster for a photo on this final go-round.
Pilgrim Congregational Church, which has hosted and person-powered this community-building ministry for more than a generation, is selling the year’s final donuts and coffee under the tent, where a rotating roster of good causes and organizations raised funds each week for the benefit of sweet-tooths and the detriment of waistlines.
The vendors’ wares, meanwhile, have been narrowed, mostly to apples and root vegetables, pumpkins and squash and peppers. Cold hands count out the change and bag the produce.
“Barry’s Berries,” repeats one patient vendor to a customer who isn’t catching the pun. “B-A-R-R-Y-S B-E-R-R-I-E-S.” Customers and sellers exchange fond farewells.
“See you next year.”
The guy at the bread tent replies, “If God’s willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if the bread does rise.
Bears fans banter with the Packers fan in the corner who sells Indian corn and has dared to wear his team’s logo on his sweatshirt. “It’s the only team worth rooting for,” he says with a mischievous grin. Bears boosters are in no position to rebut.
The sky begins to spritz and he notes that in the wee hours this morning as he drove past O’Hare, he spotted a few flakes. It won’t be long.
At the tables along Lake Street, a political partisan waves a handout at passersby. “We need to get rid of this regime,” he says. “Trump’s got his finger on the nukes.” At a separate table nearby, the Democratic Party of Oak Park offers signature petitions on clipboards for an array of candidates trying to get on the ballot.
As I put cream in my coffee, a friend sidles up and says, “The jet stream has buckled, and we’re on the wrong side of it.” A woman on my right says, “It’s perfect weather for a finale.” For finality anyway.
The warm Saturdays of summer are already a fading memory. Since late May, this has been a place where you pick up flowers and fixings and farm stocks. It’s also where you pick up where you left off with the lives of people you may not have seen all winter. Farmers Market crowns the “coming out” portion of the year here in the upper Midwest. Farmers raise their crops and we raise our kids, some of whom are running back and forth on the soccer field across the street. We trade pleasantries and tips and updates and how-are-yous and revel in the abundance and relax in the cool of the first mornings of our weekends.
But November is now upon us and with it the turning inward that begins, appropriately, on the Day of the Dead. The farmers let their fields rest and find other ways to occupy their time. Soon the sandhill cranes will fly over, heading south for a warmer winter than we can offer.
I purchase a few last edible-looking tomatoes and a couple of deep red peppers and call it a season.
“Have a good winter,” says the seller, chipper to the very end.
A good winter.
There’s a concept.