Con­tem­plat­ing the left­overs

The Covington News - - OPINION -

The day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing I found my­self in my fa­vorite chair on the back porch, sip­ping cof­fee and watch­ing the sun try to break through a splotchy over­cast sky. As a weather front be­gan mov­ing through our neck of the woods, the ze­phyrs were swirling about in the back yard, bring­ing down a seem­ingly end­less cascade of worn-out leaves. And as the leaves fell, I re­al­ized that I was not only see­ing them, but hear­ing them.

Some friends gave us wind chimes some years ago, you see, and I al­ways look for­ward to days when I can sit and sip cof­fee and lis­ten to the sooth­ing tin­kling of those wind chimes. Decades ago Si­mon and Gar­funkel sang about the sound of si­lence, and I like to think that the sounds our wind chimes make are the sounds of friend­ship. I’ll sit there, sip­ping cof­fee, and re­flect on the stuff I think of as im­por­tant, all the while in the pres­ence of those good friends as their wind chimes let us visit, vi­car­i­ously.

The morn­ing be­fore Thanks­giv­ing I re­al­ized that the sound of the leaves giv­ing up their grip and mak­ing their ran­dom de­scent was some­what dif­fer­ent this year from what I’ve al­ways re­mem­bered. I guess the drought has drained this year’s leftover leaves dry, and I reckon that ac­counts for the dif­fer­ence in their tenor. For a mo­ment I flashed back to when we took a youth group to the Six Flags Over Ge­or­gia, and I re­mem­bered how the kids would raise their arms and start scream­ing as the roller coaster crested a hill and started a wild plum­met down­ward. My wife’s dog looked at me with her ears stand­ing straight up, head cocked in­quis­i­tively to the side as I laughed out loud imag­in­ing that what I was hear­ing was the leaves yelling as they turned loose from their tree and started their wild ride earth­ward.

And it dawned on me, sit­ting there in that “Cov­ing­ton chair” which my friend Rob Lan­ford crafted from re­cy­cled wood, that the fall­ing leaves were a lot like the chair: they’re left­overs.

And I got to look­ing around, and re­al­ized just how many

“I sat there on the back porch, in a chair made of leftover wood, watch­ing leftover leaves fall while a leftover dog frol­icked amongst them, and won­dered if folks my age and older get to think­ing of them­selves,

too, as left­overs.”

left­overs pop­u­late our house, our yard, and my life. But, quite un­like trash to be dis­carded, the left­overs are im­por­tant. The value of some may be tan­gi­ble, but the value of most left­overs falls into the neb­u­lous cat­e­gory of in­tan­gi­ble.

Nev­er­the­less, the im­por­tance of left­overs is in­ef­fa­ble.

My wife and I have dwelt in our house on Farm­ing­ton Lane for nearly 20 years now. Through all those years of rais­ing three kids, de­spite count­less base­ball games, birth­day par­ties, and hot sum­mers with homemade “slip-nslides” in the yard, we’ve en­joyed an al­most un­bro­ken car­pet of thick Ber­muda grass out back.

But six years ago my wife brought an­other leftover into our life, a tiny puppy no­body wanted which she and the kids found in the dog pound and saved from eu­thana­sia. That pre­cious lit­tle mutt grew into my wife’s hu­mon­gous 65-pound dog who loves to scat­ter birds as they try to feed, and thrills to chase squir­rels, chip­munks, and a wide variety of thrown ob­jects.

Our once-lush back­yard is now akin to a de­nuded Lu­nar land­scape, the grass hav­ing fallen vic­tim to the beast’s claws over six years of ma­ni­a­cal gal­lop­ing af­ter scores of rub­ber balls, plas­tic chew toys, in­de­struc­tible knot­ted rawhide ropes— you name it.

For that rea­son, I al­ways look for­ward to the fall, for as those leftover leaves come down they blan­ket our back­yard desert be­neath a car­pet of color. I’m sure our neigh­bors have al­ways won­dered why I never get around to rak­ing the leaves un­til just be­fore spring­time. Now, as Paul Har­vey would say, they’ll know the rest of the story.

In myWed­nes­day morn­ing re­flec­tions I got to won­der­ing what the dif­fer­ence is be­tween what we call left­overs, and what we clas­sify as me­men­toes. The old adage teach­ing that “one man’s trash is an­other man’s trea­sure” is proven by the ex­is­tence of yard sales and eBay, for sure. But I got to think­ing about all the pic­tures we have, the old books we han­dle with care, and the odds and ends I keep on my desk which will al­most cer­tainly be thrown away when I’m push­ing up daisies sim­ply be­cause no­body else knows what mem­o­ries are at­tached to them.

The first whis­tle I was ever given by Coach Fred Shaver when I started coach­ing foot­ball at South­east Bul­loch High is stuck in a cub­by­hole on that desk. It fi­nally broke af­ter about 20 sea­sons, and any­body find­ing it will just think it’s use­less. But they can’t see the mem­o­ries at­tached to it, you know?

It’s a leftover, for sure. But it’s not go­ing any­where.

There’s a rock­ing chair in our den with a wob­bly right arm. No­body much sits in it any­more, but ev­ery once in a while I’ll go out there and sit in it to re­mem­ber stuff that mat­ters to me. I bought that chair for my wife back when we were new­ly­weds, and tried to bring it home in the back of my 1973 Grem­lin. It wouldn’t quite fit, and forc­ing it through the hatch­back I broke one of the an­chor­ing spin­dles in the right arm. We’ve had that chair nearly 34 years now, if we make to De­cem­ber. I rocked ev­ery one of my chil­dren to sleep in that chair over the years, al­ways mind­ful of that wob­bly right arm that, de­spite re­pairs, al­ways worked loose.

That rocker is a leftover. But it’s not go­ing any­where.

As the leaves fell lastWed­nes­day and the wind chimes tin­kled their song of friend­ship, I re­filled my cof­fee cup and set­tled back down on the porch in my chair of leftover wood.

And I looked over at the first television I ever brought home to my wife, along about the time I broke that arm on the rock­ing chair. To­day’s gen­er­a­tion would laugh at it, in­deed, for it’s an old con­sole TV that was a dis­counted floor demon­stra­tion model. Some­how it, too, made it home in the back of that vin­tage Grem­lin all those years ago. The tube lasted un­til our last child was in high school, and when it fi­nally gave out I couldn’t bear to put that con­sole down by the street for trash pickup. So the TV took up res­i­dence on our back porch un­der a table­cloth, and now serves as a handy buf­fet or side­board.

It’s a leftover, too. And it’s not go­ing any­where.

I sat there on the back porch, in a chair made of leftover wood, watch­ing leftover leaves fall while a leftover dog frol­icked amongst them, and won­dered if folks my age and older get to think­ing of them­selves, too, as left­overs.

Per­haps the most vi­brant years of my life are be­hind me, but per­haps not. What of the life ex­pe­ri­ences and wealth of prac­ti­cal knowl­edge I’ve ac­quired? What be­comes of folks as they age, as tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions threaten the older gen­er­a­tion’s sense of se­cu­rity by in­vad­ing their com­fort zones?

The day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing dawned clear, cold, bright and as beau­ti­ful as any day has ever dawned. I fed our leftover dog the healthy stuff the vet tells us to stick to, but mixed in some leftover turkey and ham with it. And I went out in the drive­way and brushed some leftover leaves off my old Chevy pickup, which a good friend sold me a few years back when it reached the point where he con­sid­ered it a leftover.

And I got to think­ing on the truth of the adage that “as some­thing’s gained, some­thing’s lost.”

For as younger folks move amongst us with Blue­tooth ap­pa­ra­tus stuck in their ears, fin­gers furtively typ­ing out text mes­sages on wide va­ri­eties of hand­held com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices, ac­cess­ing the in­ter­net on their iPhones, they live in what in­creas­ingly seems to me to be an ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated world. And that world is as dis­con­nected from the one the great ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans in­habit, as is the world of the very rich from that of the des­per­ately poor.

I’m not a smart man, but it seems to me that in­stead of in­no­va­tions which ac­tu­ally serve to dis­tance seg­ments of so­ci­ety from each other, what we need more of is to some­how get ev­ery­one on the same page with re­gards to ap­pre­ci­at­ing life and liv­ing it to the fullest and best de­gree.

Young folks tuned in to tech­nol­ogy do an aw­ful lot of com­mu­ni­cat­ing, but what are they say­ing? Can they dis­cern be­tween use­ful in­for­ma­tion and pro­pa­ganda? Most im­por­tantly, are they lis­ten­ing at all?

And, if so, can they hear the leftover leaves hol­ler­ing ex­u­ber­antly on their wild ride to earth?

Nat Har­well

Colum­nist

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