Poppin’ with Pop – A Recollection

After many years of absence, I returned to the neighborhood where I spent the early years of my life. I was walking down the street I had walked so many times on the way to school or to the corner store for an ice cream. Although the homes and street were familiar, the picture seemed much different now.



I brought my son to see my old neighborhood, to see where I grew up and he walked beside me now, gazing up at the trees that shaded the sidewalk as they had done for me then. It was mid-summer now and the leaves have reached maturity, especially the maples, first to sprout in the spring, with reddish-brown buds. Gazing across the street, a single tree stands deep green against the blue sky. A humid rush of air blows past me and tips the leaves back, exposing lighter green undersides.

The trees had always provided a dense shade for much of the block in front of the house, but the branches seem now to be hanging lower than I remember. Some places I even have to duck to miss.

Glancing down at my son I am struck by the realization that I was his height when I the memories were last imprinted on my mind. I remember how I often ran down this sidewalk and leapt into the air, stretching my arm out as far as I could to reach the leaves.

I encourage my son to jump to get one of the low-hanging maple leaves. It’s time to pass on to my successor generation some key knowledge which is bound to prove useful later in life. He runs ahead and captures a prize leaf. Maples always were the best. Large smooth surface, tender to the touch, broad enough to hang well over both sides of a small fist. Perfect ammunition for a ‘popper’ and room enough for several re-loads.
I don’t remember who it was taught me how to pop leaves, but it is something which I always did whenever leaves were within reach. Taking the hard won leaf from my son’s hand I begin to describe the process with the slow, deliberate motions of a magician. I place the leaf over my left hand, ample coverage even for my large fist. Holding my left hand out about a foot from my stomach I bring my flat open right hand down quickly on the loaded popper and POW! Oh, what a sweet sound!
Not waiting for further instruction, my son leaps for fresh ammunition. Dropping back to earth he notices that he missed a leaf but came up with another play-toy of the Maple tree, the “propeller.” Before he jumps again I take the propeller from his hand and say “Wait, look at this! Time for a nature lesson.”

Later in the year, these v-shaped wings will dry out and drop from the tree on their own, spinning down slowly to earth and depositing themselves on the ground. With the rains of spring they will sprout into a very fast growing maple tree.

But there is another use for these flying seeds. While they are still green and moist with sap, you just have to break the two halves apart and you have a Pinocchio nose kit for two.

By splitting the end with the seed in half, and peeling out the seed, we both placed the sticky propellers on our noses, prepared to go up for ammunition again.

His next jump resulted in success, now that this leaf snatching had a purpose. Anxiously, he placed the leaf on his hand and smacked it hard with his open hand and there was no pop…

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Aw, you got a blank, it happens sometimes.”

“No really, what did I do wrong?”

“Ahhh..the secret!”

“You need to form a circle with your fingers, keeping the fist slightly open, instead of a closing it ,” I said.

Aided by this age-old secret, he again smacked the leaf and fist and squealed with delight when it popped loudly.