Normally, an afternoon spent raking leaves that numbered in the billions — no, I didn’t count, but it seemed like that many — is not anything that would put a smile on my face or provide some pleasant vibes.

Normally, such an exercise would cause a lot of murmuring, a healthy dose of fretting, and occasional use of language that we can’t print here in your hometown newspaper.

However, as we all know — way too well by now, in fact — 2020 is not normal. Not when it comes to the fast-approaching holidays and scaled-back family gatherings, not when it comes to shopping for formerly underappreciated common items (I can’t remember the last time I did a fist-pump when I found paper towels on a store shelf), and now, not even when it comes to the habitual, routine autumn activity of leaf raking.

Anyways, I had placed the last of about a dozen bags of leaves from the backyard onto an unbagged pile from the front yard, making for an accumulation that was about the size of the Great Wall. I was using my electric blower to nestle a few stray red, yellow and orange rascals into the pile when a van pulled up in front of the house. A couple started piling the filled bags into the back of their van.

“Are you from the city?” I asked with a quizzical look on my face, thinking maybe they were with the DPW, though the van had no markings.

“No,” the man said, tossing a bag into the vehicle. “We’re just taking your leaves.”

Uh, OK, I thought.

“Can I ask you why?” I said, all kinds of scenarios going through my mind, mostly along the lines of “Who the heck takes somebody’s leaves?”

“I use them to cover my fig tree for the winter,” the woman said.

Finally, something that made sense. I’ve heard that fig trees are delicate and need to be babied in our upstate New York winters. When my daughter was young I planted one, primarily so she could marvel at Mother Nature’s handiwork. The very first year, it produced a couple beautiful and very familiar-looking fig leaves. But I didn’t know about protecting it for the winter. When the snow flew, it went dormant, though it came back to life the next spring and produced a couple more gorgeous leaves. This went on for a few years, but the tree never seemed to be thriving, and eventually it died.

Those were the days before every curiosity could be researched with a Google search, so I just figured I had gotten a bum fig tree. Later I learned that the tree’s demise was my fault, and I needed to take better care of it when it was young.

The couple piling my leaves into their van apparently has taken very loving care of their tree. They told me it was 20 years old, and the man said that the figs this year were unusually plump and juicy — maybe because of our hot, dry summer. He told me that the woman made super tasty jams and jellies out of the figs, and I told them to stop by the house sometime with some of them and I’d buy some. They said they would, and so, as Bill Murray said in the movie Caddyshack, “I’ve got that going for me … which is nice.”

I also told me new fig tree friends that if they ever needed more leaves to please feel free to drive by and rake whatever they needed up from our yard. They laughed. But I was serious.

Many of you who have read my columns over the years know that I like to write about experiences and people, but obviously over the last eight months in this COVID era, such episodes have been fewer and farther between for all of us. None of us have really been meeting a lot of new folks or having such encounters, but this little one in my front yard felt like just a smidge of normalcy.

As we all get ready for a most unusual Thanksgiving holiday, I hope that you all get to experience something similar, a pleasant little meeting or incident that puts a smile on your face. We all could use it these days.

Contact Executive Editor Mike Cutillo at (315) 789-3333, ext. 264, or

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