Journals of an Insane Genius - February 2001

LILAC (Syringa vulgaris): For uprightness, lightness; helps those who burden themselves by refusing to receive support from others. Possible meanings when receiving: first emotions of love, youthful innocence, purity, sweetness, beauty.

I smelled the sweet fragrance of lilacs today and was sent back in time to when I was a five-year-old boy. We didn't have much of a yard in Flint, but at the back of what we did have was a line of lilac trees that would explode in fragrance and color each spring. My mom loved those trees and she always brought some of the flowers into the house. But she loved her sons as well, so we were allowed to climb in them, even though it meant we would tear them up.

I was in the backyard playing with my brother, Bill, who is one year older than I am. We're under the influence of a "Lost In Space" episode where the robot has grown to gargantuan size and is dying (somehow robots could die in that show). It's up to young Will Robinson, boy astronaut, to venture deep inside the robot to fix the problem and then escape before being crushed when the robot shrinks to normal size.

Bill has discovered that if we climbed the long way through the lilac trees, it's just like trying to escape from the robot. The rule was (games must have rules, no matter how silly) that if you slipped and touched the ground before reaching the other side, you died (we were boys; if life & death wasn't on the line it just couldn't hold our interest).

Young Will Robinson had the advantage of space boots that, despite looking like regular boots covered in aluminum foil, provided him with the traction and agility he needed to escape. I had to rely on my trusty Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars. Black, with a white patch certifying authenticity covering each ankle and a 100% synthetic rubber toe (the theory we held at the time was that, unlike steel toed boots which would collapse and stay that way if something heavy fell on them, our rubber toed sneakers would bounce the object away).

Bill was ahead of me and I was making increasingly risky maneuvers to try to catch up. Still falling behind, I tried to jump past two trees and catch the next. Funny how quickly you're life can flash before your eyes when you're five and falling. Just before I hit the ground and "died", none other than my faithful Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars rescued me. Sort of. I wasn't touching the ground, yet I wasn't holding on to anything either. A sturdy branch had caught the section of the toe where the rubber is attached to the canvas and tore inside my shoe and snagged me by my toe guard. I was suspended upside down and the branch was now leaning out too far for me to grab any of the others.

Even at an early age I had an amazing ability to keep my cool. "BBBBBBIIIIIILLLLLLL!!!! HEEEELPPP!!!" Bill climbed down, ran over to where I was at, assessed the situation, and went into the "six-year-old-boy-something's-wrong-and-I-don't-know-what-to-do" dance, which consisted of hopping up and down and waving his arms around. Sensing that Bill was close to panic and unsure of what course of action to take, I calmly suggested, "GET MOM!!!!"

After what seemed like an eternity Bill came running around the corner of the house pointing and shouting, followed quickly by Mom. I can't imagine how anyone could stay sane while raising five maniac boys, but somehow Mom always knew what to do. In this case it was to somewhat unsuccessfully stifle her laughter at seeing her wriggling son hanging by a toe and, with what seemed like superhuman strength to me at the time, lift me from the branch by the foot. She followed this up with holding me in her arms until my tears subsided, congratulating Bill for going for help, and taking us both in for cookies and Kool-Aid.

Is it any wonder why I'll always love the smell of lilacs?

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