Saturday, October 22, 2016

October 22: Past Inserts a Finger, Smell of Orange, Druids

These trees stir me.  The past inserts a finger into a slit in the skin of the present, and pulls.  I remember how sycamores grew--and presumably still grow--in the city, in Pittsburgh, even along the busiest streets.  I used to spend hours in the backyard, thinking God knows what, and peeling the mottled bark of a sycamore, idly, littering the grass with dried lappets and strips, leaving the tree's trunk at eye level moist, thin-skinned and yellow--until someone would catch me at it from the kitchen window, and I would awake, and look at my work in astonishment, and think oh no, this time I've killed the sycamore for sure.

I love Dillard's image of the past as some little kid scratching and pulling apart things in the present.  I've seen my son do this.  He'll have a blade of grass or a piece of paper in his hands, and, pretty soon, there are shreds of green or confetti in front of him.  I do the same thing sometimes with Styrofoam cups.  After I'm done drinking my hot chocolate from it, I will slowly start to dissect it until it's a pile of white, environmental-damaging pebbles.

The past works that way.  Something nondescript, like a tree or the smell of an orange, is a portal into memory.  When I smell orange, for some reason I think of Christmas.  One year, I made an ornament out of an orange and cloves, and it filled the whole house with this sweet, citrus scent for the entire holiday season.  Orange also makes me think of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center.  The day after I graduated from high school, I went on a trip to Florida.  There was a ride at EPCOT called Horizons, I think.  In Horizons, you rode in this spaceship.  At one point, the spaceship flew over an orange grove, and the smell of orange was all around.

Halloween does this to me, as well.  As I'm walking around with my kids, collecting Milky Ways and Skittles and raisins from the neighborhood, I think about the Halloweens from my past.  The time my mother sewed me a clown costume (this was before clowns became homicidal creeps), and I painted my face white.  Or, the year the film Alien was released, and I put on a pair of sweatpants, white tee shirt, and head band emblazoned with the word "Nostromo," which was the name of the spaceship in the film.  Nobody got that one. 

When I was a kid, there wasn't a designated trick-or-treating time.  Trick-or-treating began after school let out, and I didn't stop until the last front porch light was turned off, usually around 10:30 at night.  As Bob Dylan says, the times they are a' changin'.  After a couple of streets, my kids are pretty much done.  They want to go home, sift through their booty, and call it a night.  Churches throw "Harvest Festivals" on Halloween, I assume to circumvent the holdover elements from the Druids.  The Halloweens of my past were filled with Christopher Lee Dracula movies, full-size candy bars, and the fear of razors in apples.

Yes, the past has a way of inserting itself in the present.  This weekend, I'm taking my kids pumpkin hunting.  Then we will hit the local Halloween Superstore to do a little costume shopping.  I'm sure there will be eye-rolling from my daughter.  Tantrums from my son.  By the end of the excursion, my son will tell his sister, "I hate you." 

Saint Marty will just tuck those memories into the Halloween file in his mind, along with all the pumpkin guts and leftover Jolly Ranchers.

The good old days . . .

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