October Leaves

There was something special about late October and early November Saturday’s for me.  Particularly if Yale was playing at home.  Walking back from the Bowl in the declining light, the air crisp and dried leaves underfoot.  I loved it.  Some of the homes had neat piles of leaves gathered curbside along the street.  And on occasion there would be a homeowner shepherding his leaves into a low smoldering fire. Carefully monitoring the consumption of leaves.  Slowly adding more as needed.  I think of it in the way that a pipe smoker carefully keeps his bowl of tobacco lit.  

I loved the smell of those burning leaves.  Too bad that the air from burning leaves is as bad, if not worse, than the fumes of a diesel bus.  Well, burning leaves smell a lot better than the exhaust of a New Haven City bus!And then there is this.  Bessie told me that when she was a child in North Carolina, that they would put potatoes at the base of a leaf pile that was on a low flame.  I think of Bessie as a young child finding joy in that.  And I can imagine that there wouldn’t have been a potato to surpass the ones that she enjoyed from that leaf pile.

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Glessela Tea

Historically the hot beverage of choice in Slavic lands was tea.  And perhaps owing to the costliness of ceramic cups, most folks drank their tea in a glass.  And while Mommie Soph sipped her tea from a rather prodigious coffee cup, she referred to it as a glessela tea… which I took to mean a “small glass” of tea… although there was nothing small or glass in her consumption of tea.  Also note the absence of the preposition “of” from the description.  Yiddish probably had a case ending to handle that piece of grammar? Regardless, for Mommie Soph it was a glessela tea. And she continued to follow the Eastern European custom of biting off a piece of a sugar cube, and sipping the tea thru the sugar fragment.

When I went to the Soviet Union in the summers of 1969 and 1970, I saw firsthand that drinking tea from a glass was still going strong in Russia.  I also learned how to properly hold a hot glass of tea: place the thumbs on either side of the lip of the glass, and place the tips of your middle fingers on either side of the base of the glass.  Then use both hands to bring the tea to your mouth, and sip away!

But for more upscale tea drinkers, there are ПОД ЧАЙНИК (pod chainik — under tea “cup”) that are put into play.  The glass meant to fit snugly into the holder. Here is a brass ПОД ЧАЙНИК that I brought back as a gift for Mommie Soph.

For Mommie Soph a device for a holding a glass was no longer required.  Still, it did recall to memory of her shtetl heritage.  There was a proud melancholy there.

I now use a glass for enjoying a cup of Earl Grey (with the added convenience of a connected glass handle).  It’s always nice to think of a connection of generations.

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Vandalism and Beltway

So, here’s a clean joke I like (and one of the very few that I know.  Also, bear in mind… I could make it longer; but elaborate staging notes will have to suffice.)

{Setting: Two couples in their late 70s after dinner.  The wives have retreated to the kitchen to assemble the dessert & coffee.  The two husbands head to the den to lay claim to the most comfortable seating.}

Husband #1:  We went to a great place for dinner on Wednesday night.
Husband #2:  Oh? Where’d ya go?
Husband #1:  We drove down to New Haven.
Husband #2:  OK, New Haven. What’s the place?
Husband #1:  It was that place that was just written up in that, uhhhh, in… uhhhhh…NO! it was on that thing on cable.  You know… that program that features different places to eat in different towns.  You know… San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, New Haven.
Husband #2: OK, New Haven. What’s the name of the place?
Husband #1: The name? It’s, uhhhh {rolls his eyes}. Uhhhhh {shifts a bit in his chair}.  It was, uhhhh {gestures with his hands in a circular motion to indicate progressive thought and frustration}. It was… you know… {puts his hand to his forehead}!  *uch*  What’s the name of that flower that is red? But it could also be other colors!!  Come on… {gestures towards Husband #2 to supply the answer}.  You know… {gestures more emphatically and raises his voice considerably, displaying pique and irritation}. The flower that has long stems and all those thorns!!
Husband #2: A rose?
Husband #1: That’s it! {turns to the kitchen and shouts} Rose!!  What was the name of the restaurant we went to on Wednesday night?

I think it was Saul’s wife Kathy (Saul, being Sandy’s brother), who mentioned during brunch we shared at Mix Prime in Woodbury that nouns are the first to go. This observation was made when someone at the table (I don’t remember who) couldn’t retrieve a word from his or her vocab inventory.Then, the conversation thread came to a halt as the table engaged in a joint effort to tease out the missing word.

Sorta like the game of charades.  But in charades the person who holds the floor knows the answer, and everyone else in the room has to try to guess the answer.  But in this little variation, no one knows the answer.  Or more accurately, the person who knows the answer can’t remember it. (And this is why it’s good to go to places that serve unlimited Bloody Mary’s and Mimosa’s for brunch).

In the general scheme of things this “forgetting a word” is a mild symptom of aging.  And it is something to keep in mind when other more problematic physical issues begin to intrude in our lives.

Anyway, what’s the big deal if one day you can’t remember, for example, the term “beltway”?  What brought this to mind, I can’t say.   But I enlisted Sandy’s help to unearth the word to describe an Interstate road that is used to circuit around a major city to avoid the more congested route that goes thru the city.  I even had trouble articulating the purpose of this thing. I stumbled thru countless, “ya knows” and “come ons” (all accompanied with gestures added to help recover the word),and voiced in a crescendo of exasperation, and all to no avail. (SIDE NOTE: increased speaking volume is of no assistance).

At this point we can agree that “beltway” is not a particularly fancy word (what linguists would call an “inkhorn” term).  It’s easy to spell.  Easy to pronounce.  Once you understand the context, it’s easy to understand the meaning… and thoroughly maddening not to be able to put the word into play when I wanted to.  The word remained unreturned to me for over a week.  True.  That pesky word vexed my sleep for a week.  At least once a night, while trying to fall asleep, or in the middle of the night when I would get up to hit the loo (see above comment about physical issues of aging), there would be a void where “beltway” should be. Finally, there came the night when I got up from my sleep and announced to the ceiling fan, “beltway.”  I felt like T.E. Lawrence who against all odds crossed the Negev Desert!  I was a happy fellah.  I now “owned” the word… never to be forgotten!

Unrelated to interstates and beltways, more recently I had a “Yogi Berra Moment” (he, a distinguished American man of letters who once said, and I quote, “it was like déjà vu, all over again…”).  I was in conversation and lost the word to describe random violence, not against people, but against property.  Like in Disney’s  animated film Pinocchio when Pinocc and Lampwick are in Pleasure Island and the kids are running amuck throwing bricks at houses and dropping pianos from second floor windows.

It took another in-the-middle-of-the-night-epiphany for “vandalism” to be released from the netherworld of my mind.  I fashioned an association for the word to aid in its retention.  It was simple, the origin of the word traces back to the Vandals, one of the “barbarian” tribes that hassled the Roman Empire, and I’m a big fan of barbarians… Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Huns, Franks, Vandals… I like ‘em all! So I felt confident that I could put losing a troublesome word to rest!

But not so fast Kowalski… a few weeks later I was re-visiting my word dropping incidents to Sandy, and lo!  My re-acquisition of “beltway” proved fleeting!  So much for “owning” the word.  Thankfully I regained the noun without an extended lapse, and then to seal the deal, Sandy, being from Brooklyn, offered the “Belt Parkway” as an associated term.

Am I “safe”?  Not really.  This “noun loss” thing ain’t going away.  I’m grateful that my collection of adjectives and verbs appear unaffected by vocabulary displacement. Remembering people’s names can sometimes be a challenge.  And there is something else I wanted to add here in closing… but I forget what it is.  Shame, I’m sure that it was insightful, clever and pithy.

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CARO 2001

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