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Contemplating the leftovers
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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 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-n-slides" 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 my Wednesday 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 last Wednesday 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 is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.