It’s a short walk from our front door to the end of the driveway. Once there, we have a decision to make … go left or go right. I suppose I could turn this into a deep, heavy, political discussion, but I’m just walking a dog and I’m kind of over politics. I let Zsa-Zsa make the decision. I figure it could be the most important decision of her day and who knows, maybe it gave her a sense of empowerment. A pug-power kind of thing. Not that she needed any encouragement in that area. She was always chock full of attitude and vinegar.
Mimsy will occasionally look back at me as we walk, as if seeking my approval. Zsa-Zsa had no such compulsion. I believe she thought she was walking me, probably sized me up and figured I needed the exercise.
If we head right it only takes us a few steps before we enter the complex of the Catholic Church next to our house. In the narrow green space between the sidewalk and the street are a couple of old horse-chestnut trees. These are not great specimen trees. They are Tim Burtonesque bonsai versions of horse chestnuts. The green space they are living in runs parallel to the power lines above them. Left unattended their limbs would surround the telephone and power lines, but the electric company does not leave them unattended, they are pruned almost beyond recognition, but they still produce fruit. Large spiny pods that contain brown nuts resembling the eye of a deer, hence the name “buckeyes.”
As Zsa-Zsa and I walked past the trees during late summer into autumn, I couldn’t resist picking up one of the “buckeyes” as we went past. The pods that hold them are sharp and unpleasant, but the nuts contained inside are smooth, pleasant to the touch and roll easily between the forefinger and the thumb in a comforting sort of way. They eventually ended up in my pocket as a temporary holding device until they landed in a variety of locations. Zsa-Zsa is no longer with us, but years of walking past these trees have resulted in my finding these buckeyes in many unexpected places. I can be rummaging through the drawers of my office desk in search of a paperclip, only to find an old petrified buckeye.
If I’m honest with myself, I know exactly why I pick them up, and it goes back decades. The grade-school I attended in the early 60’s was 2 miles from our house. At some point when I was 8 or 9 my parents agreed to let me walk to school with my friends. Bus service was provided, but as an 8 year-old boy, it was not cool to ride the bus. Parents today would not dream of letting their children walk 2 miles along a road with no sidewalks and across railroad tracks unsupervised. It was a different time, a more innocent time. The cold war was heating up, we had had the Cuban missile crisis, and satellites were starting to appear in the night skies, but a 2 mile walk to school with your neighborhood pals was considered perfectly normal.
Bragging rights in young boys of that era were established in many ways. How far you could throw a ball, how fast could you run, how good you were at arm wrestling, how many speeds your bike had, did your family own a color television, and the contents of your pockets. Girls had not yet come into the equation.
I was above average at arm wrestling, below average at how far I could throw a ball, and we didn’t own a television set, let alone a color one. My bike was a one speed coaster bike. The contents of my pockets benefited from my walks to school.
Our school commutes had two speeds, the all-out-run or the amble. The all-out-run was employed when we spent too much time on the amble, or were just plain running late. Ambling allowed for time to kick anything down the road that wasn’t firmly attached to the terra firma. It allowed for the discovery and collection of found objects along our route. Anything with gears was a given to be collected. Discarded batteries even if completely discharged, were picked up. They had the right size and heft to make them ideal for throwing at anything that needed throwing at.
Nine-volt batteries were very common then because they powered the transistor radios that everyone had. These batteries were particularly easy to test for charge. A quick touch of the terminals to the tongue let you know immediately if there was any charge left. Mind you, we were not without our hygienic principles. It’s not like we just picked something off the ground and put it to our tongue, we wiped it on our shirt sleeve first.
It was a time when almost all men carried 2 things in their pockets: a cloth handkerchief and a pocket knife. So occasionally we found a pocket knife. Usually with a broken blade, but it was still a great find. A broken blade could also serve as a screwdriver. Of course there was always the chance that the blade could snap shut during that maneuver and cut your finger. It was a risk worth taking.
Then there were the nuts. Acorns and hickory nuts weren’t worth picking up. Walnuts, like batteries were made for throwing. But a buckeye, a buckeye was a rare find. Worthy of pulling out at recess and showing off.
“Cool, let me see it. Where’d ya find it?”
Of course it didn’t take long for the teacher on recess duty to come over and confiscate the object of attention and we would never see that buckeye again.
Mimsy and I still walk that path that I walked with Zsa-Zsa. I will still pick up a buckeye and run my thumb around it’s smooth skin. It still brings a smile to my face and a remembrance of a simpler time. I still put the buckeye in my pocket.
Because I’ve got a buckeye and you don’t. Bragging rights!