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Three fellas are talking, the old joke begins. The topic is the best invention of all time.

“Gotta be the automobile,” one says. “It defined the American lifestyle.”

“The lightbulb,” another argues. “It turned night into day.”

“The thermos bottle,” the third proclaims.

“The thermos bottle?” the other two ask simultaneously. “All the thermos bottle does is keep hot things hot and cold things cold.”

“Yes,” the friend answers. “But how does it know?”

That’s how I began a little blog last week.

I explained that this joke, first told to me a good 30 years ago by the late “Pidge” Watson, comes to mind every autumn as I head outside to rake leaves. That’s because, at least at this time of year, I believe the best invention of all time is the paper leaf bag that stands up by itself. If you ever struggled with plastic leaf bags, you know what I’m talking about.

I must admit I faced this year’s leaf raking with more than a little trepidation. According to my Pittston City yard waste calendar, the last day for leaf pick-up is Nov. 19. That’s tomorrow. And, while I filled 15 bags with leaves last Tuesday, there were at least that many still on my trees. I was sure I’d be raking leaves on Christmas Eve and had no idea where I’d put them.

But Mother Nature, in the form of wind and rain, came to the rescue. My trees are now bare. A cold day is forecast today, but if it stays dry, I should have all my leaves (30 bags or more) at the curb first thing in the morning.

While my lower back will be glad the job is over, I must say I enjoy raking leaves. And always have.

It started in the ’60s when all over the neighborhood we kids raked leaves into the gutter where our dads lit them on fire. Environmental issues acknowledged and accepted, I must say I miss the smell of those burning leaves. But not as much as the experience of being out there with my dad.

I still rake leaves in the same yard we did. More that 20 years ago I returned to my Butler Street roots and purchased the home I grew up in. My dad’s been gone for nearly 25 years, but whether it’s raking leaves or shoveling snow, he’s with me in spirit.

My dad, a rough-and-tumble farm boy and World War II veteran, had a playful way about him. That playfulness came to mind the other day as I recalled the time he “shared” some of his leaves with a neighbor who had none.

My brother Bobby, 11 years my junior, was a kid in elementary school and the only Ackerman child still at home. One of his playmates from the neighborhood was Vinnie Wachs. Vinnie lived a few doors down the street with his grandmother and grandfather, Jean and Vince Wachs, for whom he was named.

“You’re lucky,” Vinnie told my dad as he watched him rake leaves. “We don’t have any leaves in our yard.”

“Well, we can fix that,” my dad said. “Go get your wagon.”

Vinnie was delighted as he and Bobby and my dad filled wagon full after wagon full with leaves and carted them down to Vince’s front yard.

After enjoying Vince’s reaction when he came home from work, my dad went down and raked them up. He had actually doubled his work but to him, the laugh was well worth it.

A former student once described my teaching style as “playful.” I took it as a compliment. And silently thanked my dad. He always said even when doing serious work, you can do it with a light heart.

I also cannot rake my leaves without thinking of another former neighbor, Mark Casper and his dad Bob. They too lived a few houses away but in the opposite direction, and unfortunately for them, downwind from us.

The Caspers moved from that home quite a while ago, but when I bumped into Mark a few years back he said he will always remember his dad saying, “We have to go out and rake Ackermans’ leaves.”

Until that day, it had never occurred to me that for all the leaves I rake each year, there’s another bagful or two blown off to other locations. Most of them to the Caspers.

I bet if Vinnie Wachs had been aware of this he happily would have gotten his wagon and brought those Ackermans’ leaves right back.