I rediscover the joys of chestnuts

I hadn't noticed chestnuts for years. But there they were: high up, pale green, swinging from the tree branches, and dropping with a thunk onto the sidewalk. Most of them landed intact, their thorny exteriors protecting the treasure that lay within. "They're chestnuts," I said to my sons, Mike and Daniel.

Mike hopped off the back of the stroller while Daniel twisted around to see his brother stoop over and examine the spiked sphere.

"Go ahead, stomp on it," I said. Mike touched it with the toe of his sneaker.

"No, harder," I urged.

He pressed his heel down and the green ball exposed only the white flesh inside. He looked up puzzled.

"Like this," I said, and showed him how.

My swift step produced a shiny reddish-brown prize. "That's a chestnut."

Mike bent over and seized it. "Chestnut! It's so shiny."

Daniel strained under his stroller harness. I unbuckled him, and the two ran up and down the walkway finding chestnuts to stomp on.

"Big one," said Daniel, as he held a chestnut in his small fingers.

"This one has two," Mike said, as he stuffed them into his bulging pockets.

I suddenly felt a thrill that I had stopped experiencing a long time ago. An old joy had returned.

I have always been the sort of person who lives with an eye on the future. An additional work assignment might turn into an opportunity to advance, even though it would ruin my weekend. An empty, gently worn plastic container may serve as a necessary tool in my next home or cooking project.

Before Mike and Daniel were born, on the rare day I stayed home from work, I would hear children's laughter echo from the schoolyard nearby as kids ran around during recess. Their high-pitched voices seemed pleasantly dissonant to my life in the adult world, where weighty problems were solved at meetings that swallowed up dinnertime or required 6 a.m. flights fanning to points south, north, or west.

Back then, I'd heard the quaint sayings about the blessings of children and how they were little miracles. But the words always had the hollow ring of my grandparents' stories about the days before television.

I didn't really know how much motherhood would connect me to my past.

With Mike and Daniel on that particular day, I was both the delighted mother, relishing my sons' excited shrieks, and also the young child I used to be but had almost forgotten. I returned to the time I'd spent in my neighbor's yard hunting for chestnuts. I felt the cool, dry breeze blow the skirt of the cotton paisley dress my mother had sewn from a Butterick pattern. I was the 9-year-old who woke up each day feeling excited about events that were brand-new to me.

This same enthusiasm rushed back that day as I said, "I used to love to do this."

I found my own bright-green sphere and rolled it under the ball of my foot. This seemingly inconsequential activity carried the weighty significance that lingers in a child's mind, those soaring emotions felt, for instance, when pressing a doorbell on Halloween night.

As a kid, I kept the chestnuts for months in a shopping bag in my room. Soon, fall faded into winter, and I dumped the chestnuts under a tree for the squirrels to feast on during the freezing months.

When spring arrived, I put on a lighter jacket one day and felt in a pocket the one prized chestnut I had saved because of its glossy coat and perfect shape.

Upon examination, I saw how a few short months had aged it. My perfect specimen had withered. It lay pinched and wrinkled in my hand, its coppery color faded to dull brown.

Today, with Mike and Daniel, I hold a new chestnut in my palm while my boys place the ones that won't fit into their pockets onto the stroller seat. We are consumed with the hunt and the excitement of this adventure unfolding. I marvel at the energy that propels their tiny legs back and forth up and down the walkway.

I press the chestnut against my face and feel its cool, slippery coat on my skin. It is larger than most, and its coat is a deep reddish brown. It's impossible to place this beautiful chestnut with the others on the stroller. I hold it in my hand while I gather the boys for our walk home.

Before I can stop myself, I slip it into my pocket, secretly hoping that this time, the chestnut and today will last forever.

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