May 14, 2024 at 7:20 a.m.

Walnut Wars

By LARRY PERKINSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Walnut trees grew in the woods behind our home, and a few could be scaled. Near the top, where sturdy limbs still extended, I sometimes perched like a sentinel keeping watch on the children at the other end of the trailer park.

The walnuts were easy to spot even though limbs and leaves almost masked the green husks. The hulls protected the inner shell and the treasure that would later drop to the ground before being hammered out and scattered on pies and cakes. Nature rewarded us when we were not wasteful.

Generally, my brother and I traveled unscathed through those woods and on the gravel lanes to the creeks and cornfields beyond, but we were young and occasionally indifferent to camaraderie. So, now and then a rock was thrown too hard, or a stick lashed out with a stinging force. Small hurts could be rubbed away after the small fights stopped.

When skirmishes erupted, handshake treaties or softer words ended the confrontations as quickly as the foolishness that started them. “Wanna play ball” or “See you later” conveyed that relationships had been restored. We innately understood what my brother Gene has said forever: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

In late fall the walnuts always fell, but during one particular October disagreements festered. “Sticks and stones may break your bones,” but walnuts can make you downright mad. Thankfully I never witnessed a stick swung or a rock launched hard enough to cause injury. But, for a few days, walnuts were wasted, and treachery left its mark.

Unknowingly we had trained for that season of discontent all summer long. We had mitts and old baseballs. If a bat showed up, a game started. If not, pitch-and-catch ensued.

Did you ever warm up with the kid who could make your glove smoke? The windup was a clue. The smirk added acceleration. Every time my cousin Bobby hurled a baseball at me, I heard “incoming” and feared my glove’s leather lacing would not hold.

When the summer heat abated and frost covered the land, so did the walnuts. With the onset of coldness our impressionable hearts froze just enough to harbor an unprovoked meanness. Possibly just as unforgiving, boredom weeded out our individualities and harvested a group mentality.

Just because they could, one side of the park and then the other stockpiled walnuts. When an unsuspecting foe - a buddy the day before - passed by, schoolboy assailants stepped from the cover of trees and unleashed the greenish-brown orbs mercilessly and without an “incoming” warning.

To this day there are stains that cannot be removed. The bruises and the oily residue left by direct hits are embedded in my memory. The guilt that I also fired the fruits with accuracy and an anger that was not necessary casts a shadow on the spirit of my youth.

Unfortunately, when I check the news these days, a chill has iced up hearts again; and dissension is gathering sticks and stones and belittling names for its armory. Too frequently harsh reports of cruelty ambush me just like the walnut throwers did. Sadly, there are pains and blemishes that cannot be rubbed away.

I should have known better then. We ought to do better now. Communities deserve a better tomorrow. Clearly, I hear my brother asking, “Why can’t we all just get along?”