Saturday, December 10, 2011

Trah-Dition! Tradition.


It's a word that holds so much weight, at least to me it does. Christmas like all holidays are built on that very word, it's the very nature of our culture. Now, we're all different, and no two people will celebrate the holidays the same. So, it only stands to reason that we all uphold different traditions.

For me, one tradition of the season was a simple, albeit somewhat cliché one: Chestnuts. Growing up my Grandfather had chestnut trees that grew in his yard, those tress used to call to me. They just begged to be climbed and explored. We'd spend hours as children on brisk fall days clambering about their boughs and branches. Not without peril mind you, but that is something about chestnuts - most people don't really know about them. Aside from the obvious bad jokes and a line from a song, most people couldn't tell you what a chestnut even looks like, or how it tastes.

 You see, a chestnut grows inside a armored husk of sorts, its exterior becoming a spiky mace like ball that dangles until the weight of itself severs a tenuous fiber strand. My Grandfather would every week without fail rake up the fallen husks into piles under the trees. He would always caution us about them, but I don't think once I ever saw his fear or worry about us getting hurt playing around them. Honestly, over the years we became experts at removing splinter like needles from ourselves after my Grandmother and Mother had already done it for us thousands of times.

The husks themselves are more than just dangerous, they're tough. We mastered a fine art of using our shoes in a way by standing just so on one to try and force them to burst open along little seems. When the time is right you can even see a slight gap that lets the deep brown chestnut wink at you. But that is not the end of the Chestnuts defenses, left to foil your attempts is a thin robust shell that doesn't yield easily. Generally we'd rush inside with sand buckets full to seize shiny silver nut crackers that was always at the ready, bread tie twisted at their base to keep them closed. On occasion though, we were known to manage to pierce the shell somewhat with our teeth(something I do not recommend you to try by the way) and pick the shell away.

Once you had managed to bypass all it's defenses, a brilliant yellow morsel was left before you, marked with little wrinkles almost like a tiny brain. Sometimes they were dulled shades of pale grey-white, but then those you learned were the bad ones. Every year like clockwork we'd wait for it be just the right time of year to attack those Chestnut trees for their treacherous treasures.  We'd come home with brown paper bags full of the things. For me, Christmas time was simply Chestnut time.

Sadly however as we got older nature would slowly ravage those trees, denying us that precious prize. By the time they were gone I had thought that one simple delight would be forever denied me. Nobody else I knew could claim they had grown up with Chestnut trees, nowhere around me were they available. Save once, one year a small local grocery store had a few small square trays of Styrofoam. Plastic wrap clung to those dark delights, but again I was left to mourn as only a small handful was ever available.

To this very day, I haven't tasted or even seen a Chestnut in almost 10 years. I'd give anything to enjoy one again, much less share that tradition with my own kids. I've even tried to get my hands on a tree to plant of my own. Some traditions, however, are lost to us no matter what we do. But other tradition are left to us to keep and cherish. And those prized memories will always be with me. Much like the smooth feel of a Chestnut tree's bark or the sound of wind as it rustles through the leaves.