The Proustian Popcorn Pan

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‘My brain explodes with salty, fluffy memories’

I mentioned last week that my One and Only Mom was moving to new digs. All went smoothly, thanks to Only Sister Laura and Oldest Younger Brother Scott, who wrestled furniture and wrangled boxes.

Heck, they even unpacked, which in my experience (most recently with our dreaded downsizing, which you can read about in ‘The Tunnel at the End of the Light’) is way way worse than packing.

Boxes ready to be unpacked in the Ken & Barbie House. (Note that I only show my own unpacked boxes)

Mom to OYB Scott while putting things away in her new closet: “I need to go shoe shopping.” OYB Scott to Mom, after opening box containing literally dozens of pairs of footwear: “Um, what about these?!” Mom: “Well, I like shoes.”

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Youngest Younger Brother Doug, while not present for the Unpacking, played a big part in Mom’s Move too — he was one of the Intrepid Ones who sorted and boxed and toted the stuff from her Seaside apartment. (You can just glimpse him taking a much-deserved Baseball Break in the photo at the top of this post.)

A better view of Doug as he and Mom take a Scrabble Break

Speaking of Doug, this piece is kind of about him. He is the one who used to wield the titular popcorn pan. He was the youngest of us, the littlest of the Little Kids, and yet he was allowed — nay, encouraged — to be the Popcorn Maker. I can still see him — or the top of his head anyway — standing at the stove, vigorously rattling away making that night’s popcorn.

Doug on the living room floor, with Major, not popcorn (this time anyway)

We would scoop our portions from the big pan into cereal bowls, then settle on the living room floor for a night of TV watching. Dad controlled the remote, so thank goodness we all liked the same shows: Bonanza, I Spy, Batman, Mission Impossible, Laugh-In. Heck, Dad even liked Hullaballoo.

Kids still enjoy sprawling on carpeted floors — at least the ones in my Mom’s living room

I say this piece is “kind of” about Doug, because, like most of my stories, it’s really about memories. Today’s is about how crazy it is that they can be triggered so easily by something as beaten and battered as an old popcorn pan.

Why, when I saw that picture of Mom holding that Proustian Pan, I was hit by a virtual memory tsunami. I could see the light of the glowing TV flickering off our faces, I could feel the knotty texture of the wall-to-wall carpet, I could hear my brothers hissing “Get down! You make a better door than a window!” And yes, I could taste that popcorn. Which, enhanced no doubt by the lens of nostalgia, I consider the best popcorn ever popped, any time anywhere.

Mom and her personal Popcorn Popper, AKA Doug

Which is true, since it wasn’t pre-buttered or pre-salted or pre-packaged or pre-anything’d. It was popcorn grown by my Grampa Henry on his farm. It came “packaged” on cobs that we would shuck onto newspapers on that self-same living room rug. We’d put the just-shucked kernels into mason jars that we kept in the fridge. (Pro Tip: popcorn pops best when it’s cold; the kernels “escape” the husks with greater force, thus yielding a bigger “puff.”)

Grampa with his Shuckers. Er, kids and grandkids

It’s funny. When I was doing my own sorting and sifting and tossing, what were the things I just had to keep? Why, the things that triggered memories, of course. Well, as long as they could fit into 550 square feet and do their triggering.

I’m not sure what Mom kept –well, except for an inordinate number of shoes — but I sure hope someone hung on to that popcorn pan.

Doug (at left) in the kitchen on a long-ago Thanksgiving. I’m betting the Popcorn Pan got a workout even after the pie

Amagansett, New York. April 2021