Sound Bites from Memory Hell and NBC

      Sound Bites from Memory Hell and NBC

Wally Cleaver died!

Wally who you ask? Well if you did and you are a Baby Boomer you either grew up without a television or lived on Mars.

Anyone who existed before the advent of color TV knows Wally was the Beaver’s brother, or as some may also know him, Eddie Haskell’s best friend.

Tony Dow was only 77 years old, and no I can’t believe I would ever put the word only in front of 77 years old, and he’s certainly left me feeling mortal. Yet incredibly nostalgic for the great old shows I loved as a kid.

When I remember childhood so much excitement and comfort existed within the confines of that box in the living room playing moving pictures. This new and awesome friend became the babysitter, entertainer and object of amazement as we sat, eyes glued and sucking in the wonder.

The shock of growing older is stifled by the amazing ability we humans have to live in a permanent state of denial about aging. Unless we are faced with an-in-your-face situation like illness or we trip over our own boob when we remove our bra, we can pretty much go along believing we are still in our thirties and all life lies ahead.

Please do not for one moment think I’m surprised a celebrity could die. I do not labor under the delusion that because you’ve been on television or starred on the big screen you are immortal. Although, actually in a crazy sense you are and our favorite shows provide a sense of that earth-standing-still mentality. Characters and plots, always constant offer some feeling of assurance things haven’t really changed despite the reality that exists when we turn away from our television screen.

So many programs have casts now gone to celebrity heaven. Their only problem is there are no agents in heaven and therefore no multi million-dollar deals. Too sad, yet residuals aside I’m certain we’d all be happy to know that Samantha is still tweaking her nose, The Golden Girls are still listening to Rose’s St. Olaf stories and Roy Rogers and Trigger are still catching the bad guys.

Soupy Sales is throwing pies at the angels, Granny Clampett is still swimming in the ceement pond and Barney Fyfe is screwing up and getting haircuts from Floyd the Barber. Ozzie Nelson never leaves the house to go to work, Perry Mason always has the killer on the stand five minutes before the end of the show, Ben Cartwright has four grown, unmarried sons living with him on the Ponderosa, The Twilight Zone is creeping everyone out and Groucho Marks is still smoking a cigar and waiting for the duck to drop down. Oh yes, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny is playing that violin and The Real McCoys still are. Maverick is playing poker and looking damn good, Donna Reed is making oatmeal at eight in the morning in a silk shirtwaist, heels and pearls. (Yeah, like that ever happened in real life. My mother was still in her nightgown when I got home from school). 

Dobie Gillis is chasing women and Maynard G. Krebs is still allergic to work. Dick Clark is at the bandstand looking twenty-five, never aging and introducing Frankie Avalon. Danny Thomas is hoping to Make Room for DaddyDeath Valley still is, Bugs Bunny is dressing up with a mop on his head and lipstick to entice the Tasmanian Devil and the Naked City never got dressed. Wagon Train is heading west and Chester is limping on Gunsmoke while Miss Kitty wears those feather boas around her neck. Jack Webb is getting “just the facts, Mam” on Dragnet, Ralph Cramden is driving a bus and Norton is addressing the ball on The Honeymooners. We always love Lucy although she still has some splainin to do.

The Flying Nun hasn’t landed, and believe it or not the professor can figure out how to make a radio, but not how to fix the boat so they all remain on Gilligan’s Island.

That Girl lives in an expensive New York apartment and dresses in couture while working part time, and Hogan’s Heroes are outwitting the Germans because Shultz “knows nothing.”

Jeannie walks around with her navel uncovered and sleeps in a bottle, Mission Impossible still is and on Green Acres Eva Gabor dresses every day for an inaugural ball and possessed the first Glam Squad. Get Smart is hanging out in the cone of silence and Petticoat Junction is well, yeah, right. Colombo, like every real-life detective figures out the killer in the first two minutes and Beep Beep Rosie is cleaning The Jetsons’ house. And when is she coming to clean mine already?

Sky King is flying around heaven and Uncle Miltie is dressing up as a woman and making us all laugh. Buddy Sorrell is insulting Mel Cooley while Laura Petrie is yelling, “Oh Rob”.

The Brady Bunch is surrounded by avocado green appliances and wood paneled rooms, My Favorite Martian is living with Bill Bixby and moving his head antenna up and down unable to leave earth. Lassie is saving Timmy and Lois Lane hasn’t figured out the guy she’s in love with is really Clark Kent. Sid Caesar does the best fake accents anywhere on Your Show of Shows and Gracie Allen is a lovable airhead while George just smokes his cigar and patiently grins. Red Skelton is still Clem Kadiddlehopper, Our Miss Brooks is unsuccessfully lusting after Mr. Boynton and Abbot and Costello are asking, “Who’s on first?”

My Little Margie is driving her dad Charlie Farrell and his boss Mr. Honeywell crazy which is why Farrell went on to open The Racket Club in Palm Springs when land there was five dollars an acre. December Bride is living with her children while they search to find her a husband and Liberace is still in the closet sporting a candelabra for some additional class.

Ernie Kovacs’ wackiness and brilliance remains greatly missed by all and  I Married Joan introduced Jim Backus who went on be Mr. Magoo and Thurston Howell the III. Mr. Peepers is a shy science professor who’s not as scatterbrained as people think, and Fury is still a magnificent black stallion.

Red Buttons is singing Hidiho and F Troop can’t find their way out of a paper bag. The Life of Riley still is and Ann Southern continues to be a very Private SecretaryTopper remains plagued with ghosts and an alcoholic St. Bernard and The Millionaire’s Michael Anthony refuses to drop off my check. 

Yo Rinty! Need I add more? 

The Bob Cummings Show has Alice B. Davis madly in love with her boss but getting nowhere, which is probably why she left and became Alice on The Brady Bunch.

Sgt. Bilko is the best con man in any man’s army and actually managed to get a monkey, Harry Speak Up inducted. Lest we ever forget Sheena Queen of the Jungle or how no week could ever begin properly without The Ed Sullivan Show

But of course no list of great shows could ever be complete without the Mouse. I had my ears ready every day while Jimmy Dodd and Big Roy led the Mouseketeers through the theme of that day’s show. My favorite was Friday when Spin and Marty at the Double R Bar RanchAnnette and all fun series were featured. Although, Anything-Can-Happen Day on Wednesdays was pretty damn good stuff too.

I know I’ve left some oldies but goodies out so you could fill in your favorites. Please send me any I’ve forgotten and your thoughts on those shows. Hey! Why do I have to do all the work here? Just kidding, I love remembering all the happy moments these shows brought into my life as a kid and even today. I hope I just brought some new smiles to you.

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.