In today's fast paced, media frenzied, shortcut hungry world I'm not sure how many will recognize the name of James Whitcomb Riley but some may recognize some lines of his homespun poetry.

In today's fast paced, media frenzied, shortcut hungry world I'm not sure how many will recognize the name of James Whitcomb Riley but some may recognize some lines of his homespun poetry.
"When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodder's in the shock," are the words that begin one of his poems, aptly titled 'When The Frost Is On The Pumpkin.'
As a child, I loved his poetry without knowing any of the poet's history. My favorite Riley poem is 'The Raggedy Man'. Like his other works, it's written in dialect he intended to reflect rural speech patterns of his native Indiana. The poem appeared in one of my Childcraft volumes and I liked it's rhythm as well as the story it told.
My Pop had a Victrola, one he'd bought for his mother many years before.  It was kept upstairs in the spare bedroom and it was a rare treat when Pop played some of the records for the grandchildren.  He had records recorded by the great Caruso and by John McCormack who sang Irish ballads. Maybe I'm imagining it but I think he also had some rousing march music by John Phillips Sousa.
My favorite record, however, wasn't musical  - it was someone reading the 'Raggedy Man'.
I didn't realize it then but I've learned the voice on the record was James Whitcomb Riley himself.
He recorded the poem as a Victor record in 1912, when he remained at the height of his fame. I wish I still had the record or the victrola but both are long gone.
My Pop had wanted me to have the victrola but when he died, his brother carried it back to Colorado with the idea it was far too valuable and fragile to give a nine-year old child.
While I don't have that recording, I did find it on YouTube and it sounded as I remembered it, complete with the scratchy noise common to early records. An image of the record is displayed too.
I listened to it and could almost believe I was back, sitting cross-legged on the floor on a rainy day, listening to it with my cousin Bill at my side.
In his day, Riley was known as the people's poet laureate, the Hoosier poet, and the children's poet. He was one of the most popular poet's of his era.  His collection of poems, titled 'Rhymes of Childhood' was a best seller in the 1890's, selling millions of copies. He traveled a poetry circle performing readings across the nation.
In his poetry, Riley preserved bits of his childhood.  He based his Raggedy Man on a German tramp his father brought home to do odd jobs. One of his other best known poems, 'Lil' Orphant Annie' was about a 12-year old orphan girl named Allie who helped his mother around the house. A printer's typo changed the name from Allie to Annie. The popular comic strip, Orphan Annie, which led to movies, theatrical productions, and more, was based on Riley's poem.
Riley was born on October 7, 1849 and died on July 22, 1916. His legacy lives on in his poetry, once well-known and lauded. I doubt his work is read as often as in my childhood but I will always hold his work dear.
Poems like James Whitcomb Riley's fueled my imagination as a child and inspired me to set foot along a writer's path.  
So for me, when it's fall, the frost is on the pumpkin, whether it is yet or not!

Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.