hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA


October 24, 2013

Chestnut tree maintained its vigil


On finding the first conker, we would say, “Oddly, oddly onker my first conker.” This would ensure good fortune and few problems throughout the coming season.

My pockets were filled with chestnuts as I made my way to school. At recess, out they came as a crowd hovered around two players, waiting to replace the loser. Others around the yard could be found swapping baseball cards or flipping their yoyos.

The jocks did their thing with a football and basketball. We were happy with our chestnuts.

Billy was my all-time nemesis. He had a chestnut that knew no deathbed. It hung on that string for dear life and put everyone else’s nut to doom. One day, some of us got suspicious and wanted to examine his chestnut.

Upon close scrutiny, we found his conker filled with tiny lead particles, giving it a big advantage.

“You’re a cheat, Billy,” we accused.

“Where does it say in the rulebook that you can’t customize a chestnut?” he argued.

It was later discovered that others had soaked their conker in vinegar to make them harder, even baking them in an oven and using an old chestnut from previous years.

My science teacher in middle school decided to discipline me one day after seeing me playing a game of chestnuts during class time.

“Vartabedian,” he said. “Hand them over. Every single nut, including you. Tomorrow, I want a report on the history of chestnuts.”

I learned something vital from my lesson. I learned that chestnuts have been used to treat malaria, varicose veins, diarrhea, frostbite and ringworm, as well as being a component of sunscreen products.

Every year around the second Sunday in October on the Village Green in Northhamptonshire, they have a world conker championship. Nuts are supplied for each game after being gathered and strung by organizers. Contestants aren’t allowed to use their own chestnuts.

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