I love finding horse chestnuts in the Fall. It’s a real thrill to pry open the thick spiny green shell -- a bit like opening a gift wrapped present. There is such an anticipation of delight. My recent finds are no exception. The outer shell gives way to reveal a gorgeous nugget of deep red brown roundness with a creamy top. It reminds me of a perfect espresso with a crema top. The delicate swirls of pattern invite my thumb to trace the contours over smooth shiny curves. Fifty years melt away...
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I look up from my English notebook to make sure nobody is watching me. The teacher is writing in her daybook, and the other kids all have heads down, pencils scratching out a story. My story isn’t going very well. It’s stupid. I can never come up with anything good. But recess is just minutes away, so I reach into my desk, past the packet of Dad’s oatmeal cookies to find the tangle of shoelaces. I tease through the tangle to grasp the two round chestnuts, ready for action. Just yesterday I found these under the big tree in the neighbour’s yard. I raced home and headed right downstairs to my Dad’s workbench to get the hammer and a big nail. It was a little tricky -- the chestnuts were a bit slippery and didn’t want to stay still on the floor -- but I got a good hole through two of them. A third one split. Oh well, good thing I picked up three! Then I had to go find shoelaces. The big thick ones are the best, like the ones I found in my sister’s skates. Perfect! I put a good knot in the end of the laces and strung a chestnut on each one. Two beauties ready for action.
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Ring! The recess bell made me jump, but in no time I was in line and ready to head out the door. Danny, the boy with the ‘five year bully’ (meaning he had beaten five others with this conker) had a bunch of boys already gathered around him, ready to try their luck. I join the group. They tease me as usual, being the only girl and all, but I don’t like skipping or hopscotch. I like conkers! One by one chestnuts smash against each other and one by one the boys ahead of me leave behind their broken bits. Now it’s my turn to get demolished – well that’s what the boys say! I crouch down on my knees and take out the really big conker and lay it in the pit. I close my eyes and Danny takes his best shot with his now eight year bully. SMACK! “It’s your turn now.” somebody says.
“What?” I stammer, “My conker is still in one piece?” I dry my hands on my pants, then grab the end of the shoelace and hold it tightly with my right hand. I wrap my left thumb and forefinger around my conker and draw the shoelace up tight. SNAP! I see bits of chestnut flying in the air. But they’re not mine. WOW! I just smashed an eight year bully to smithereens! “I did it! I did it!”
Ring! Recess is over. I quickly stuff my best ever conker into my pocket and skip back into school. Now I have something good to write about and a one year bully in my pocket. Cool!
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©2014 April Hoeller