hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA


October 24, 2013

Chestnut tree maintained its vigil

Every time I hear “The Chestnut Song,” it warms the cockles of my heart. Not that I roast them by an open fire. Others are apt to do that for me with a cup of eggnog over the holidays.

Seems like I’m getting into the spirit a tad early this year.

I grew up in Somerville, and my bedroom faced a horse chestnut tree. It was a tree that always kept giving. It rained chestnuts. Sometimes, you would throw up a stick to nudge it along, but it was known to shed its contents every fall.

The ground was covered as we made our way to the bounty, harvesting whatever we could gather. More than once, I stooped too low as one or two nuts landed right on my noggin. Getting beaned with the chestnut casing came with the territory, I suppose.

It always amazed me how many chestnuts one tree could discharge, much like acorns which continue to litter my yard biennially. And this happens to be the year. I’m forever raking them up into piles as the squirrels watch from above. They know where to go for their next meal.

Unlike the acorn, I found a practical use for the chestnut. I would drill a hole in the center and attach twine to it, knotted at the bottom like a pendulum.

And then, we would challenge others to a game. Whoever knocked the other’s chestnut off the string was declared the winner.

Some, like the Brits, called it “conkers.” It is a game that has been played during autumn for generations. But nowadays, fewer children are playing it.

Like the yo-yo champion of our neighborhood, there was also the chestnut champ. A great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard, therefore formidable.

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