Gathering Horse Chestnuts after school every autumn.
by James K. Sayre
Starting about third grade or so, each autumn I would stop at the vacant lot at the corner of Washington Road and my street, Hazel Drive, in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. There was a grand old Horse Chestnut tree and every autumn it would drop many of its fruits, the shiny beautiful red-brown Horse Chestnut, usually encased in a thick greenish prickly outer coating.
This gathering activity only happened on the way home: one could dawdle and walk slowly with no penalty. In the morning, one really had to get to school before the opening bell rang; otherwise you got reprimanded by the teacher and a note was made in your Permanent Record Folder. This authoritarian bureaucratic concept followed us through grade school, junior high and high school, although we weren't really threatened with this until junior high school... I wonder how long the school administration kept these records?
Anyway, gathering up Horse Chestnuts every autumn was part of growing up for me in the early 1950s: a modern version of the primitive hunting and gathering instinct. Unfortunately, the shiny Chestnuts soon dulled after being taken out of their green husks and left outside in the sunlight. No matter, we did the same Chestnut gathering in the next autumn.
Living back in the placid 1940s and 1950s, we actually got a chance to have a relatively long and innocent childhood; there were no television shows constantly hyping adult sexuality at every turn, reminding little kids of what lay ahead...We just had the Howdy Doody Show on television, all they said was "And kids, let's go!"
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