by Eugene Scott, Beckley Post-Herald, West Virginia , September 17, 1942
During this period of battles and turmoil in the world, one finds little time to dwell on the past, or to call up those fond memories of experiences that have been lived and all but forgotten. Yet, come September and invariably our mind goes back some two decades when, as a lad, we used to gather chestnuts from under the hundred or so giant trees the formed a chestnut orchard along the slopes just back or our home.
Those chestnut trees have been dead for years, and have long since been cut down, but autumn never comes that we do not think often of the glorious days when we arose at dawn to beat the turkeys to the chestnut orchard to gather up the first nuts that had fallen during the night. No experience in all the years since has been so colored with sheer delight, with such fantastic enjoyment, as picking up chestnuts during the month of September.
We had most of the chestnut trees named. There was old First, old Second, old Third, named in order as they stood beside the pathway leading to the barn. There was old Wormy, old Gray, old Blackie, old Hillside, old Chunky, and many others — all named according to the type of chestnuts they bore or in regard to location. There was old Early, which always started "cracking" first in the fall. The chestnut trees were too large to climb. Most of them were 60 to 75 feet tall and some three to five feet in diameter. When the first burrs began to turn brown and crack open we would stand on the ground and toss rocks and sticks high into the trees to bring down the first ripening nuts in a spirit of eagerness that could not wait until the burrs burst wide and the rich, brown nuts pelted down in showers.
Vivid is the recollection at night when we would sleep close to the window and listen to the chestnuts falling through the branches. Come dawn and we would attempt to steal out of bed without awaking our brother in an effort to get the first nuts to fall. The flock of turkeys, likewise aware that chestnut season had arrived, would often be out before dawn and running from tree to tree to gobble up the nuts that had fallen during the night.
After the burrs had opened wide, the ground would be literally covered with nuts during the early morning. And when it chanced to rain during the night it was not uncommon to find as many as a half-bushel of chestnuts under one tree. Chestnut season lasted for bout tree weeks, affording the richest experience or our life as a farm lad. The first money we can recall earning for ourself was by picking up chestnuts. The nuts used to sell for as much as five to eight dollars a bushel, and the orchard most years would yield 15 or 20 bushels.
It was a sad day when the giant trees began to blight and to die, limb by limb. In the course of two or tree years whey were all dead —and now only the big stumps remain on the great chestnut empire over which we used to rule as a child. The years, however, have failed to erase the bright memories of that happy period of boyhood. Even yet, in the midst of pressing duties and the strain of the war, we find our mind drifting back to the past, into the golden age of rich experiences. Sometimes at night, when the katydids are singing their notes of coming autumn, we like awake musing on the innumerable nights we used to like beside the window listening to the chestnuts fall. We still think that if little boys are to be completely happy in Heaven, there ought to be a lot of chestnut trees there.