In the days when I was leading a local crusade to ban the noisiest kind of so-called leaf-blowers (a cause which, at least here in California, has only recently found fruition in actions by the State), I had an unfortunate run-in with a gardener, who was using one of these devices on the property next to my own home. It was unfortunate for many reasons. One was that at least part of the incident was witnessed by my wife, Dorothy, who was the actual owner of our house, and who abhorred any kind of public embarrassment – of the type which my own activities only too often led to. Another reason was that the machine was strapped to the offender’s back, and, after trying very peaceably but unsuccessfully to get the man to desist – even going down on my knees in front of him in an attitude of prayerful pleading – I took the foolish and unforgivable step of trying to wrest the device from his back.
The result of this fracas was that the gardener got a doctor to certify that he had been injured, and then actually sued me. Dorothy had always been very security conscious, and had bought a Homeowner’s Insurance Policy, which we found had an “UMBRELLA CLAUSE.” I knew nothing about such matters, but learned that an Umbrella Policy covers cases not included under a standard insurance policy. Thus, although I was not the person insured, and although my misdeed happened on somebody else’s property, we were still covered to the financial extent spelled out in the policy.
(In my own defense, or at least extenuation, let me explain that this was early days in the anti-blower cause, which I had almost single-handedly been pleading before our City Council, who had just that week voted it down – and I was therefore feeling quite bitter and over-wrought about the whole issue. Also, in my agitated state, it was the machine, not the man, that I was trying to take action against.)
Several times, I had to go and see the lawyer, who, I think was hired by our insurance company. The ultimate outcome was a judgement of some $11,000 in favor of the “injured” man (who never missed any days at work). I’m not sure how much of this was covered by our policy, but the whole experience has given me a warm, positive feeling about that very descriptive word “Umbrella.”
(Speaking of words and characterizations, the doctor who certified the gardener’s injury was described to me by our lawyer as being well-known as a “medical prostitute.”)
I’m glad to say that, from this incident, I learned my lesson, and became the leader of a legitimate well-organized campaign, which was ultimately successful at the polls – although this affected only our own City.
Quite apart from the term’s metaphorical usage, the existence of various kinds of umbrellas – mostly, it seems, to provide shade from the sun, rather than shelter from the rain – can be traced back for thousands of years. Of course, there have been various technological improvements over the centuries. To my mind, the very best of these, so far, has been the development of transparent coverings, which make usage by pedestrians on crowded streets somewhat less hazardous.
As a symbol, the umbrella has been widely used in commerce, and even in politics. Perhaps the most famous instance was that of Neville Chamberlain, who was Prime Minister of the U.K. from 1937 to 1940, and who, in dealing with foreign dictators, particularly Adolf Hitler, became associated with the idea of “appeasement,” i.e. making concessions, rather than threatening war. In 1938, Chamberlain flew in person to meet Hitler in Munich, and as a result of the “settlement” reached there, Germany was allowed to invade, occupy, and actually annex a part of Czechoslovakia which, it claimed, was essentially German.
Upon returning to Britain, Chamberlain announced that he believed he had brought “Peace in our time” – a statement which would haunt him, after Hitler invaded Poland only two years later, thus inaugurating the Second World War.
But when Chamberlain was seen in public, he was nearly always carrying a neatly rolled-up umbrella, and this somehow became his symbol, and that of the whole “Appeasement” movement.
Finally, here are two of my own contributions to the literature on this subject:
“The rain falls equally on everybody, but there are always some people who have the best umbrellas.”
“For some strange reason, people who sell umbrellas rarely curse the rain.”