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The mother of invention

Rick Ryckeley's picture

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, I don’t really know who “they” are, but over the years kids have grown up and invented some time-saving tools, and it was all because of their dads. Confused? Just keep reading. It’ll all make sense by the end.

The park encircled twin lakes just a mile outside our sleepy little downtown. Last weekend, The Wife and I slowly followed a pathway that wound its way around the still waters. We were in no hurry, truly a rare time in our busy lives.

Our final destination: lunch at one of the picnic tables scattered about the far side of the lakes, tucked nicely under grand old oak trees — trees that were now all splashed with color and set against the backdrop of a painfully clear blue sky.

As we neared the tables, a slight breeze rustled through the trees, and leaves began to rain down around us. It was indeed picturesque by anyone’s measure. Except, of course, mine.

The Wife finally noticed. I wasn’t gazing up at the scenery as any normal person would. (If you’ve read my columns, you already know I ain’t quite normal.) Instead, I was looking down at the ground, and with good reason.

When the Wife asked why, I replied, “You know some dad’s gonna make his kids rake up all these leaves.”

Living at 110 Flamingo Street was truly a magical time for my three brothers, sister, and me, except during fall: prime leaf raking season.

Our backyard belled out downhill and disappeared into the leading edge of a swamp, around which stood giant oak trees. Any time one of us four boys got into trouble, we knew what the punishment would be. Rake leaves and pile them at the bottom of the hill.

Even “accidentally” breaking one of the rakes didn’t help. Dad always had spares. To this day I truly believe rakes were invented by someone’s dad as punishment. And years later, the gas leaf blower was invented by some adult because he got tired of raking leaves as a kid.

Raking leaves was never fun, but what came afterwards was — as long as you weren’t the one to find the prize.

After a couple of weeks, the pile of leaves at the bottom of the hill had grown into a mountain. My three brothers and me, we spent hours running down the hill, diving into the pile then raking the leaves up only to do it all again. Play continued, until some unfortunate soul uncovered the prize.

Did I mention we had a black lab in the backyard? Leaves weren’t the only things that got raked up during the fall. Yep, that was one prize I hoped my other brothers would find first.

After the leaves had all fallen, Dad still had to come up with something else outside for us to do when we misbehaved. That’s why, next to the rakes, he kept four sling blades. Tall grass and weeds around the swamp always had to be cut. I’m convinced the inventor of the weed-eater spent winters and summers whacking stuff with a sling blade just like we did.

After our picnic lunch, The Wife and I made it slowly back towards our car. We walked past a family of white ducks gobbling bread from the fingers of a giggling little girl. We walked past two teenagers intertwined in a kiss, oblivious to the world around them. We walked past three boys taking turns tossing a Frisbee, laughing in delight as a black lab retrieved even the farthest throw.

Suddenly I stopped. The Wife asked why.

I replied, “I’m not sure, but I think I just found the prize.” I lifted up my foot and looked, “Yep, found it.”

As we drove away, I looked back on the tranquil scene still unfolding around the twin lakes. Finally I understood the lesson learned raking leaves with my brothers so many years ago.

There’s nothing more important than enjoying time with loved ones and family — even if you do step in it every now and then.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, is in his third decade as a firefighter and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]

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