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Twenty-Seventeen
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OUT OF MY HEAD
By John Addyman

   We have a horse chestnut tree on our street, about two doors down.
   It’s a symbol of how things are different for today’s kids.


   When I was growing up, chestnut trees were everywhere. A blight killed a lot of the American Chestnut trees off, but the horse chestnut trees hung in there. Still, they were rare.
   The thing about a chestnut tree is that it’s full and lush and green, provides great shade, and when healthy, is a really solid tree for decades.
   And then there are the chestnuts. You can’t eat them, but you can sure play with them. I remember growing up with a chestnut tree right up the street, and spending hours every fall collecting chestnuts, popping them out of their thorny pods, and figuring out what to do with them once I’d assembled a collection.
   The chestnuts I collected in the fall would end up in my mother’s little flower arrangements and might be evident at Christmastime…some even got planted in pots and were available for transplant in the spring.
   Last fall I introduced two of my grandchildren to the chestnut tree down the street and sure enough, they collected a bunch of them. There’s nothing like the feel of a shiny, smooth chestnut right out of the pod. And just like I did when I was a little boy, my grandchildren played with those chestnuts all day.
   But I haven’t seen any other children enjoy that tree – and the family that owns it is certainly accommodating…take all the chestnuts you want.
   What’s gone is the pleasure of taking something as simple and beautiful as a chestnut and playing with it for hours, hours where you have to use the engine in your own head to make up games.
   A chestnut doesn’t light up, doesn’t make noises, doesn’t sprout mechanical parts and turn into something else: it just sits there looking good and demanding that you use your imagination. And it doesn’t need batteries or have warning labels, and there’s no lead content. It’s even made in the USA. Also important for those of us who live in Wayne County – chestnuts are tax-free.
   Kids need more chestnuts in their lives.
   Instead, they have phones.
   Watch a bunch of kids come out of school any afternoon and it’s tough to see their faces – everyone is bent over, flicking through all the text messages on the phones, or busy responding to all those messages. They’re so universally bent over it looks like a mass of Egyptian slaves filing out of the mud pits after a day of making bricks for the pharaoh.
   My oldest grandson loves to go to garage sales with me, and if there are toys there, he’ll find them and play with them.
   His first question, when encountering a toy he hasn’t seen before, is, “What does it do?”
   Not, “What can I do with this?” but “What does it do?”
   This summer, we reduced the number of toys in our little grandkids’ playroom by about 75 percent. Funny, the grandkids don’t seem to spend less time in there. They make do. They make up. It’s an interesting transformation to observe. 
   We, as parents and grandparents, spend a lot of money at birthday time and Christmas buying toys that do something. And the more toys do, the more expensive they are…and the faster my grandson can break it.
   He’s four years old. I’m wondering, when does he ask for his first phone? What will I be doing when I get the first text message from him?
   I’d much rather he came over to our house with a big handful of chestnuts and said, “Granddad! Look what I have! What can we do with them?”  
   Let’s hope that happens. 
   When it does, I’ll take a picture with my phone and send it to you…
    
        

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2 Comments to "OUT OF MY HEAD - for October 4 2010"

  1. Seth C. Burgess Said,

    I loved collecting chestnuts from the few trees in the neighborhood as a child. We'd eventually let them sit in a paper bag in the basement until they dried, and then bring them back upstairs later on to throw in the wood fireplace as a noisemaker--they "crack!" when heated.

    Posted on Mon Oct 04, 03:18:00 PM EDT

     
  2. Gil Burgess Said,

    When I was a kid, it was an annual ritual for neighborhood kids to take large grocery bags (paper, of course) to some of the same trees that Seth visited and just fill them with chestnuts. To observe today's kids not even noticing them is sad---and it's equally sad that no one wants our zillions of black walnuts!!!

    Posted on Mon Oct 04, 10:08:00 PM EDT

     

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