As Halloween approaches each year, my mind always goes back to an annual ritual our family celebrated each October. Because when I was a child, each fall, usually the 3rd Sunday of October, but sometimes the Sunday before Halloween (that would be today), the Chicago Tribune ran a copy of a famous drawing by John T. McCutcheon. Inspired by a string of warm autumn days, Mr. McCutcheon first drew the cartoon in 1907, and it was published on September 30th of the same year. Gradually, after several years, the cartoon started to gather a huge following and eventually it was published each year on the cover of the Sunday magazine section of the paper. In fact, it was reprinted each year from 1912 to 1992, when it was finally removed from the paper.
But what made it so special to me is that Grandma would save the page from the paper and tape it up on the old ice box that was later converted to a refrigerator in their kitchen. Each Sunday, we ate dinner together as a family at their home, and I remember rushing in to see if she had saved it for me each year. I absolutely loved that drawing. The top part of the cartoon showed an old man with his grandson talking about the harvest and the bottom section showed a transformation of the corn into Indiana teepees and the smoke from the fire rising to show the ghosts of the Indians. I would sit and read the captions and the story year after year for as long as I can remember. If this is of interest to you, you can Google “McCutcheon Injun Summer” and actually read the short story – it’s worth doing if you haven’t seen it!
Anyway, it all reminded me of my time with Grandpa out back behind his house talking about the land and how God gave us seasons. In the old days, he would light his pipe and hold a rake, sitting on a stump, just like it shows in the drawing. I even remember his hat and the smell of the fire burning at dusk each fall.
One year, when Janet and I were first married, Janet realized how important this drawing was to me and when the Tribune had a one-time offer to purchase the poster, Janet surprised me and bought two of them. We had both of them framed. Back then, I hung one in the office and kept one at home. Now, years later, as I work out of our home, I still keep one upstairs and then, in the fall, I hang the second one over my chair in our library. In fact, I put it up last week and it is behind me at I am writing this post.
Years ago, in Marengo, IL, there was a restaurant, the Shady Lane, that re-created the scenes from McCutcheon’s work during the harvest season. As a young child, our family went there every year with my grandparents and my Auntie Lou. Sadly, all of those folks are now gone, with the exception of my two younger brothers, but how I remember those dinners. Looking out the plate glass windows at the recreated scenes is still burned into my mind’s eye.
And in the olden days, you could actually walk out back after dinner; among the Indians and the corn stalks, and the fire. It was so special – like stepping into the drawing itself. It was mesmerizing for a young child. Years later, Janet and I actually went back to Marengo with Debbie and Randy, Janet’s sister and brother-in-law. We ate there, walked in the back and then attended a play at the theatre that was also on site. I still remember the production we saw that evening – “Meanwhile, Back on the Couch” was playing. You can tell that the place was very special to me.
That was the last time Janet and I ate at the Shady Lane. Although we travelled to Marengo once or twice, and found the location, it has since closed and that chapter is gone forever. So many fond memories……
I have been thinking about writing this post for several weeks. I seemed to remember that the drawing always occurred on the third Sunday of October, but when I researched it, I learned that the Sunday before Halloween was the annual date. I didn’t believe it, but I was a kid – so my memory could be foggy. But then, you know what happened?
For the first time since 1992, the Tribune ran the cartoon this October, and you know what date? The third Sunday, October 16th. I understand that it was a great hit. And then I learned why they stopped running it back in 1992. Because they were afraid of offending the Indians who worked in Chicago. And while I am all about sensitivity to others, I have to say that I don’t understand what is so offensive about McCutcheon’s work. And although I have my posters, it’s not the same as seeing it in the actual paper. So if anyone out there has it, please let me know. I would love to stick it up on the refrigerator – for old time’s sake. Even my posters are getting a little faded after all these years…..
The verse tonight is from Ecc. 1:4, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” I think of this verse each time I remember my grandfather talking to me about God and the seasons He created for us. Fall, the time of harvest, reaping what we have sown, followed by winter, the time that God has appointed for the rest of the weary – those who have worked all year. And then, the newness of spring and the growth of summer complete the annual cycle of the seasons.
My encouragement tonight is that you can rest in the certainty of the seasons of God. There is a peace that comes from knowing that time marches on; in lockstep with the Creator and that we can depend on the rhythms of the earth. It is good that some things never change. In fact, God promises us that the change of seasons will continue. My prayer is that God will show you a surprise in His creation. As we enter the time of rest, at the conclusion of harvest, and start to think about the start of the holiday season, I pray that the end of this year will be a special time for you and your family. Grace and Peace,