The Smell of Burning Leaves

The Smell of Burning Leaves

If one mentions the word Trigger it quickly calls to my mind a picture of a golden horse with a white patch responding to its owner Roy Rogers. Different strokes I guess.

The brain is a strange little computer. We respond to the senses and a smell, taste, sound or a glimpse can evoke the most intense memory and catch us completely off guard.

One smell that induces the most extreme reaction for me is the smell of burning leaves. If there was a candle that smelled like burning leaves I may be tempted to keep it lit all day.

Occasionally I’ll smell something that reminds me of a fresh spring day after a rain and feel that sense of contentment spring brings, but it’s the burning leaves that stoke my flame of happy memories.

Growing up in the Midwest, autumn was such a happy time filled with sights, sounds and moments captured by one scent—burning leaves. It doesn’t induce a single recollection, but a torrent of memories, happy and heartwarming that bring me to a moment in childhood special and revered.

Autumn meant the beginning of school, new clothes and clean saddle shoes. A trip on the first day of school to the corner drugstore to pick out supplies, including a new loose leaf, pencils and a clean eraser. The excitement of a new school bag complete with clear, zippered pencil case and a fresh box of Crayolas, tips sharp and shiny.

Coming home after school and changing into play clothes then going outside to play with friends and watch the neighborhood boys play football in the street.

I can still picture a leaf gently falling and covering the green grass after turning the most exquisite shades of reds, oranges and yellows. The pure joy of crunching the leaves while walking to school and then jumping in them after my father raked them to the curb. Of hearing him grumble because I messed them up and he had to redo them, yet he was never really angry. I always suspected he wanted to do the same himself.

For me it also meant the Jewish holidays were near and I looked forward to meeting friends at synagogue then walking to the bagel factory after services. The fun of Halloween and choosing a costume, begging for candy and rushing home to look through and see what wonderful delights the treat bag held.

The smell of burning leaves promised Thanksgiving and turkey roasting in the oven while we watched the Macy’s parade on television. Then soon came Christmas, Hanukah and the smell of latkes would arrive with vacation time.

No mention of autumn could be complete without invoking the smell of freshly crushed apples at the Cider Mill. The giant wheel mashing apples into submission as they released their delicious juices then paired with hot cinnamon donuts in a grease-laden paper bag. Followed by a ride on a hay wagon into the orchard to soak up the autumn colors or climb ladders to pick the ripe fruit off their trees. No memory would be complete without the crunch of a caramel dipped apple on Halloween.

Yes, that’s a lot to put on a single smell, but that’s why burning leaves are so powerful. I’m certain if you ask any Baby Boomer what smell evokes autumn for them it will be the same.

There’s a certain comfort in memories now. When younger I never thought much about the past because I was too busy living in the present, and of course when one is young there is very little past to recall.

This past year when I’ve been forced to come face to face with my own mortality and had little ability to move my life forward as I’d have wished, the past seems so suddenly important. It’s as if I pulled out an old scrapbook filled with pictures and suddenly recalled how precious each snapshot has become.

Nostalgia has been a big part of how I’ve coped with this captivity because although I wasn’t free to travel outward, I could travel backward at my leisure. I could reflect at will upon those memories that had settled into the nooks and crannies of my brain and become hidden from view. Whenever a scent or sight drew them out of hiding I luxuriated in their warmth.

There has been a great deal of sharing with old friends on the phone and of course Facebook, and recalling time spent in childhood schools, stores and hometown haunts. Remembering my favorite foods makes me long for a local deli, great burgers or pizza, Chinese food on Sunday or a trip to the DQ. The burning leaves seem to be the magic carpet that transports me to the past, flying over childhood and once again absorbing the sights, smells and tastes of my youth. Filling me with the warmth so desperately needed in these cold, scary COVID days.

Even now when I’m walking and come upon a small pile of fallen dried leaves I will crunch them under my feet and feel a sense of satisfaction as the sound hits my ears.

Perhaps it isn’t the COVID that has captured my imagination and yearning for happier times. It may simply be a side effect of baby boomerism. I can’t say for sure what has created this new desire to share memories with those with whom I shared my youth, but it is a heady and incredibly magnetic feeling.

The question “do you remember” could probably be translated as, “oh, how I miss.”

Whatever the reason I shall always love the smell of burning leaves and the wonderful feelings they evoke and in this uncertain world, of that I am certain.

 

 

 

 

Life on Planet Looney Tunes

Life on Planet Looney Tunes

I can’t even believe that Father Time has turned out to be such an abusive bastard.

Is it not awful enough that he sucks the minutes from us like a tornado moving through Kansas? Now he has allowed a pandemic to steal a year from our ever-growing shorter lives.

Thanks Father Time, may the bird of paradise fly up your diaper.

As if it’s not enough we have to contend with living in captivity, the world has literally gone so mad I’m seriously convinced I left the planet and am now residing on Planet Looney Tunes in the That’s-all-Folks galaxy.

Recently, I was watching Bye Bye Birdie and suddenly I thought, hey, wait a minute. This was my life. What happened to innocence, civility, decency, respect and embracing the simple pleasures?

I must be living in a parallel universe where crazy is the law of the land and everything is upside down.

It’s as if we’re reliving the dream of our teenage years, spending our time sitting in front of the television, sleeping in and eating whatever and whenever we choose.

Well at least that was the dream then anyway.

It took years to achieve the freedom to live our lives as we wish and now we’re on a time out in our rooms for something we never did.  
The first clue I landed on Planet Looney Tunes was the masses paying thousands for Pelotons that covered the planet as far as the eye could see. People peddling for their life and sweating while some voice yelled at them from the great beyond. Isn’t relaxation supposed to be about quiet time?

I stopped riding bikes when my Schwinn rusted out and my tuchas lost all its fat, flattened out and the bicycle seat became my enemy.

On Looney Tunes, mobs rule, children disrespect their teachers and refuse to put down their cell phones, and anyone who attempts to change lanes while driving gets the universal middle finger signal.

When we were young we weren’t allowed to sit all day and watch television, we were castigated for overeating too many sweets, and were threatened with no television for not finishing our Brussel Sprouts. UGH! I hate those things to this day.

What has happened to our lives?

Every generation has been negatively impacted by the challenges of this craziness foisted upon us. Baby Boomers can’t cruise, tour countries they’ve never seen or play mah jong or canasta.

Children miss attending school with their friends. It’s sad they’re being deprived of their childhoods; attending class, playing outdoors, forming cliques and trying to survive high school.

I’m not saying childhood is perfect by any means, but how will our children cope with life if they’re never allowed to interact with the nice and not so nice?

Every generation faces difficulties, but I’m convinced it’s the way you emerge from challenges that matters. It is a plus that families are spending more time together. Well, for most families anyway.

I can’t even imagine how awful it was for our parents and grandparents during World War II when they endured four years of fears, rationing and the loss of loved ones without Netflix, Amazon or the Internet.

Can you imagine how much worse it would have been for everyone if they could’ve live streamed the Blitz or Pearl Harbor?

Sure this is awful, but four years of wondering if your sons, brothers, husbands, nephews or neighbors would ever return from Europe or the Pacific was bloody awful.

Perhaps our parents were tough because of the war. Perhaps we are powder puffs because aside from 9/11 we’ve had it relatively easy.

No, I’m not forgetting Viet Nam, the Cold War, John Kennedy’s assassination or Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, but unless you lost someone in Nam, aside from the sadness we felt for those who did, our lives went on.

Aside from all the unnecessary death caused by that war, the saddest memory for me was the way our returning soldiers were treated. They’d been sent to a war for no other reason than to satisfy the egos of powerful men and made to pay a terrible price.

So yes, Viet Nam was a sad, horrible time, but I’m not certain it impacted the world as we are now experiencing.

Now we face another world war and because it’s biological it’s frightening and frustrating. We can’t pick up a rifle and shoot it, we can’t spy on it or run it over with a tank or nuke it with atom bombs. We can’t even force it to watch reruns of Petticoat Junction.

This is a new enemy, more evil than any we’ve seen. It’s as if China bottled the DNA from the most evil Nazi’s, put it in a test tube and loosed it on the world.

We are forced to cower in our caves like our ancestors when a wild boar sought them out. They had no weapons except a club or a rock.

As Albert Einstein was purported to have said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

I guess somewhere along the way we luckily missed World War III because it seems we’re back to sticks and stones.

At the end of the day when, as all things do this pandemic passes, the better question is; into what kind of world will we return? Will our current struggles propel us forward as better people in a kinder, more civilized society or will we continue to be angry, bitter and volatile toward one another?

Have we learned as in the past after world wars that peace, love and sanity are the very building blocks of happiness or will we continue down a road of divisiveness and conflict?

I for one will be happy to be outside enjoying my life once again, spending my moments out of captivity doing as I wish. I just pray we can all celebrate being together again in a positive way right here on Planet Earth, and create a better world than ever before.

It’s Never Too Late? But For What?

It’s Never Too Late? But For What?

Its never too late is a phrase I’ve learned to hate. It’s a bigger lie than I’ll still respect you in the morning or read my lips no new taxes or no, your ass doesn’t look fat in those pants.

My entire life I bought into the belief that as long as you’re still breathing there is always tomorrow and another opportunity to get it right.

Wrong!

Of late I’ve come to understand there is a point at which when you knock, opportunity says, “sorry, no one’s home.”

The difficult fact to acknowledge is you actually do get to a place when you’re just too damn old to do some of the things you’ve dreamed of doing. Years of garnering wisdom cannot make up for physical prowess, but it can lead you to a different path.

Sure you can point to an Iris Apfel at 96 still hawking her wears on HSN, but she didn’t start that business in her nineties.

Starting over at a certain point is pointless.

The revelation that you’ve reached a time where certain of life’s choices are no longer available is heartbreaking and yet one must come to terms with the fact it’s a stark reality of aging.

There are many who reach the laugh, laugh golden years and are quite happy to hang up their spurs. After a lifetime of hard work and smart investing many seniors are happy to travel and play golf or tennis if health permits.

So you’re asking, what’s so bad about that, Norma? Must you always bitch about this whole getting-old-thing? Why can’t you just shut up and go to a driving range?

Sadly, I’m of the school that believes that there’s so much to do in life I selfishly want to experience more.

When younger I’d read stories about 60-year olds that went to law school or 50-year olds that lost their jobs and started their own businesses and I found it so inspiring.

Now of course I realize these people were not in their seventies. Oops, that smarts.

So what is someone standing at the doorway of old age supposed to do when their spirit and mind says start that business or get that job when opportunity slams the door in their crows-footed face?

Baby Boomers joke with one another constantly about forgetting what they’re saying from one minute to the next. Walking into a room and being unable to even remember why you did and the inability to recall names or familiar words. We all compare what body part needs replacing or aches that particular day and mourn the fact we can’t eat an entire corned beef sandwich without inhaling Tums.

My body is now calling the shots and literally rules my world. I feel like a mummy that walks forward while pieces of wrappings drop off with every step. “Ouch” now describes my athletic prowess.

I do recognize the fact many grow older without as much physical damage, but no one’s body totally seems to escape the ravages of time unless they’re one of the really lucky ones.

In the end of course the truly lucky ones are actually those still alive to complain about the aches and pains.

I had a doctor friend who used to say that if you’re over forty and you wake up in the morning and something doesn’t hurt, you’re dead.

Okay, I’ve kvetched enough, but isn’t there some truth to my bitching? Yep, humor aside, time often robs us of our dreams.

To be realistic most seniors cannot become a country music star at eighty, go back to school and become a doctor at seventy-eight or get an MBA at ninety. Life is what it is and time unfortunately is a cruel dictator. And yes, you can argue that becoming a country star at eighty is doable, but try to come up against the young people running the music and show businesses and see how far you’d get unless you’re a Maggie Smith or Judy Densch.

So what can one do as the years pile up? Plenty, if agenda matches ability. We can take on new goals and let the old pipe dreams fly away on that Spring breeze that carries old desires away to some youth-filled Neverland.

Is it sad to say goodbye to those aspirations so long a part of our soul? Of course, and one of the pains of aging is letting go of the dreams so long inside, much like old friends we’ll never seen again.

When I was sixty I applied for a job at a newspaper that was far below my abilities. The interview went well as the editor knew me by reputation and we’d even met socially on occasion. At the end he asked me, “Would you feel awkward working here among so many young people?”

“Where do you think I’d feel better working, at a nursing home?” I asked.

Needless to say he’d dropped the A Bomb (age bomb) and literally given his prejudices away.

Yes, sadly there seems to be a time when one outlives their usefulness in a youth-oriented culture. When it’s time to leave and despite how much you’d like to stay, the party’s pretty much over.

So as when we were younger and a goal didn’t materialize no matter how hard we tried, we must now bury many of our ambitions and seek new, realistic objectives.

Of course for some it’s easier as they are happy with a retirement filled with easily achievable goals. A hole in one, regular visits to the grandchildren, a riverboat cruise along the Danube, trip to Las Vegas or a Maj Jong tournament, and these are all great ways to spend one’s retirement.

Yet so many of even these aims are dependent on physical or financial health and many times when dream meets reality one falls short.

No, this isn’t intended to depress the hell out of you; it’s just a shout out to perhaps find a new project that inspires your passion.

Especially now when we’re relegated to our homes in hiding from the monster virus it’s easier to feel helpless and hopeless about the future. Now when each minute takes on new meaning and significance a year of our time has been stolen from our lives. For many it will be difficult to tear oneself away from our new berth in front of the big screen and our affair with Netflix and that’s okay, too.

I’m just kind of venting about getting back out into the world and creating a new existence.

Whether it’s resting on one’s laurels or realizing a long held dream, go for it and make it happen knowing what warriors we Baby Boomers truly are.

Accept what you can’t do with grace, create the life you desire and recognize how much you still have within you to achieve.

There’s a reason poet Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

So I’m schlepping myself away from this jigsaw puzzle and checking out my bucket list. For every item I can no longer achieve I’ll add another one I can.

Oy! I think the first one I’ll add is get up off the couch in under five minutes. Hmmm, do you think I can still hitchhike through Italy?

I’d be happy to do a cheer for your goals, but I’m not sure I could lift the pom poms over my head.