Crunching Leaves and Umbrella Guns

Memory is a weird thing.

One day you can suddenly remember the Eagles game you went to at Veteran’s Stadium. You can see your view of the field, feel the chill in the air. You can see friends and family there with you. You remember the idiot a couple rows back who, upset at something the Eagles had done, threw the remnants of a soft pretzel at the field, but hit you instead. You clearly remember the piece of pretzel had mustard on it.

Even though it never happened.

I’ve never been to an Eagles game. The people I think were there with me weren’t and swear they would have remembered it if only for the soft pretzel incident that also never happened. But I remember this. And not in the way you remember a dream. My memory feels like the memory I have of doing a keg stand this past summer or the memory I have of successfully cooking scallops for the first time.

Memory is a weird thing.

Memories can come rushing back because of a smell or sound. The taste of Miracle Whip takes me to eating sandwiches at my grandparents. I don’t know why. Maybe my family didn’t have Miracle Whip, but only used regular mayonnaise and my grandparents were the only people who made me a sandwich with the stuff. Under the right circumstances, barbeque potato chips can do the same thing. The right taste of spaghetti or the lack of taste in some brewed iced tea can take me to Friday night dinners at Nana’s.

A friend of mine was watching a movie and was reminded of an umbrella gun our friend Orv made in college. A collapsible umbrella had broken. When opened, the umbrella and top of the stem wouldn’t stay attached to the handle part of the stem. Orv removed the umbrella part – fabric and spokes – but kept the two stem pieces. Without the opening umbrella to slow down the top piece of the stem, it turned into a projectile weapon. When Carolyn told me about her memory, it reminded me of the hours, if not days, of amusement we got from firing the umbrella gun.

Even writing that paragraph, I can smell how the old Alumni Theater smelled. Not remember the smell. Smell it.

Memory is a weird thing.

What got me thinking about memory was walking out to my car this morning. I have a large silver maple in the backyard, and some of its leaves end up on my front porch. Not enough to warrant sweeping them yet, but enough to crunch underfoot.

That sound always reminds me of Halloween. I live in the house I grew up in, so I’ve known my neighborhood for over 35 years. It’s always been quiet and dark. A streetlight went in maybe a dozen years ago. When my sister and I went trick-or-treating, the only light came from porch lights and the moon if the weather was good. The roads don’t get a lot of traffic now. They got even less then. I don’t live in a city so our trick or treating was done in almost silence. No sounds except talking to our friends.

Maybe that’s why crunching leaves takes me to Halloween. It was the only ambient noise and would only be heard when we started up the path to someone’s front door or on a porch.

Because of the quiet and the dark and the lack of sidewalks in my neighborhood, I don’t get many trick-or-treaters now that I’m on the other side of the door. I’m always prepared though and hope each year will bring more than my typical two. If the weather hasn’t turned cold, I keep my screen windows in and the front windows cracked through the fall to enjoy fresh air as long as possible. The only warning I have before a hobo or vampire knocks on the door is the crunching of leaves as a couple of kids walk across the porch.

And on a still morning before the birds are awake, as I walk to my car across the porch, the maple leaves crunch and break the silence like this year’s trick or treaters might, like I did when it was my turn. I’m on my way to work, to a beige box with fluorescent lighting, but, just for a second, before I get to the car, I’m looking forward to showing off my costume when someone opens the door.

Memory is a weird thing.

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5 thoughts on “Crunching Leaves and Umbrella Guns

  1. This is really awesome! Very well done!
    BTW, one of the things that I look forward to when we get back to E Town is that first step into the Alumni Theatre, and the way it smells.

  2. Posts like this make me wish I lived near enough to you that we could get together for lunch. I’d love to have a nice chat after all these years.

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