Walk at your own risk under this giving tree

My mother has already issued her seasonal warning to my sister Winnie: "I'm not visiting and bringing out these leftovers until you get rid of those walnuts."

I'm sure the home builder never gave a second thought to the handsome black walnut tree near the driveway. It's strategically located to bomb the driveway, sidewalk, porch, parked cars, and anyone entering my sister's house between September and December. The walnut tree is an all-natural security system and once startled a door-to-door steak vendor right off the front porch and back into his beef wagon.

Every year, it's Winnie vs. the walnuts, and the battle began early this year. The squirrels already are whacking the walnuts to the ground.

The battle will be grim this season. With the price of hulled nuts about a nickel a pound, you'd have to pay someone a fortune to haul off all the walnuts.

More to the point: The kids in the family have grown up, and we don't have one young enough (under age 4) to bribe or to work for a dime an hour.

Years back, my youngest son eagerly went into the walnut business. Winnie and I grinned from the window as we watched the little guy pick up walnuts and plunk them into trash cans, crates, boxes, and any other containers we could round up. After several days' work and strong winds, we crammed the van with walnuts and headed to a huller near Hornet, Mo.

The crop reaped four bucks.

After all that loading and hauling, we were hungry enough to eat roadkill. Hamburgers, fries, and milkshakes set us back $15.

I wanted to encourage the novel idea of manual labor among my children, though, so I kicked in a couple more bucks for my son.

For several years, our seasonal walnut problem was licked when an elderly fellow in a rattletrap dropped by and collected all the neighborhood's excess walnuts. He hasn't appeared on the scene lately, though, and we suspect he broke an axle.

Each day, Winnie bags the walnuts as they drop in an attempt to keep up. She's also been doing some research on all the products made from walnuts.

"I had no idea that walnut shells are used for face scrubs, house paint, and metal cleaners," she marveled the other morning. "This could come in handy with the holiday season around the corner."

I immediately had visions of a jug of homemade storm-door polish and a jar of pore cleaner wrapped up with my name on it.

"The tree itself makes mighty fine gunstocks, too, if you want to go that route," I pointed out to her. "You know - to shoot the squirrels out of your attic."

It's something to mull, anyway, as we eat another batch of walnut fudge.

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