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I Remember Chestnuts

Under a spreading chestnut tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands;

And the muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands…..

“The Village Blacksmith” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This I write to you my grandchildren. You should know some of the pleasures of your grandfather’s childhood.  Some that were very different than the ones you have.  Your fathers and mothers cannot tell you of them because they also knew different ways to play than did I.  This was because so many things changed in the way we lived just before your parents were children.  One thing that changed some of your good times happened when I was just growing up.  This thing that happened took a great deal of happiness from the lives of children, especially boys.  The thing that happened was that all the lovely chestnut trees in our woods became sick and died.

Now these chestnut trees were not only lovely to look at and  pleasant to lie under on a hot summer day but they bore high on their great branches prickly fruits that late in the autumn opened and gave us delicious nuts to eat.   I tell you that these trees were lovely to look at.  Their loveliness was partly because of their heavy covering with pretty, light green leaves and partly because of their shape.  Also they grew very large.  They liked to  grow best in the edge of pine woods where against the dark green of the pines you could see their much lighter green from a long way off.  They grew very tall and spread out their limbs very wide so that they were like a huge green ball with a short stem keeping it from the ground.  I used to think that these wide reaching limbs close to the earth were intended to make cool shade in the summer.  As you lay on your back under  them you might look far up among the branches and the sun might shine ever so hot you could see only the yellow light coming down to you.

American Chestnut

American Chestnut

Nice as the chestnuts were in summer it is in October when we enjoyed them most.  It was then, after frost had nipped at the spiney fruits, (burrs they are called) that their store of nuts were given to us.  The burrs themselves were things to wonder at.  About the size of coin purses they were round and so spiney that you could not pick them up without picking your fingers.  So ugly they were on the outside and on the inside lined with the softest velvet.  When they were ripe and frost had laid its hand upon them they split down the sides something as mother sometimes peels an orange.  Inside would be several little shiny brown nuts nestled in their velvet pouch.  These nuts were not at all like the ones you know which are hard shelled and have to be cracked.  Instead of a hard covering they were covered with something like a very thin and very stiff leather white on the inside and that soft dark brown on the outside.

There were many of these chestnut trees near the place where I lived when a boy.  Everyone liked the nuts so that all those near the roads were quickly picked up when the autumn frosts and winds brought them rattling down.  There was one place known to some of us boys which was a long way from any road where several huge chestnut trees grew on the edge of quite a forest.  Here we would journey in October after a heavy frost which we counted on to open the burrs.  The trees were so large and the burrs borne on the outer branches so that it was impossible to reach them with ladders.  So we waited for a frost.

Tree Stump Fence

Tree Stump Fence

Across a swampy place we would start.  Here alders grew so thickly that we liked to imagine it some far off jungle and half expected that at any moment we might come upon some strange and fierce animal.  The far side of this swampy place was a rather steep slope where cattle had worn deep paths  traveling to and from their distant pasture.  Following these deep paths, we came at least