sand pail by sand pail

I always wanted a horse.

Birthdays, Christmases.

Politely, year after year, I asked for a horse.

I never imagined any further than actually wanting it, I just wanted it.


Our neighborhood streets were lined with tall, full chestnut trees. The roots of the massive trees would cause the sidewalks to erupt into a variety of dangerous angles. And on top of the disheveled sidewalk were the fallen chestnuts, more chestnuts than you could imagine.

We collected the chestnuts in small plastic sand pails and then transferred them into a metal washtub in the backyard where we’d spend hours processing our haul. Before peeling, the chestnuts needed sorting. They certainly did not fall from the tree in a ready-to-be peeled state. As we sorted, we watched for the best ones. The “split greens” were favorites because those were the easiest to peel. They most likely held the doubles, too … smooth, shiny, a pair of chestnuts butting up against each other so tightly it gave the illusion of just one … less elusive than a falling star but definitely just as magical.

Once all the split chestnuts were separated and peeled, we’d wait a day and hopefully more would split overnight. It rarely happened, but we still wished.

The next morning we’d dive in again. Collect, sort, split. Day after day.

Eventually, we’d use bricks to smash the prickly stubborn shells open. We’d arrange the chestnuts on the sidewalk, stand on a picnic bench, and drop the brick onto the chestnut shells hoping the stubborn outer casing would finally crack.

Towards the garage, there were old screens set on top of cinderblocks. We’d lay the peeled chestnuts in a single layer on the screens. We’d watch them, we’d rotate them, and if any of them developed worms we’d scoop them up with our plastic sand shovels and pitch them into the alley.

The outer shells eventually ended up in the neighbor’s compost pile along with old tomatoes, coffee grounds, assorted egg shells, apple cores, and orange peels.

Once dried, the chestnuts went into brown paper bags and sat on the shelf in the garage.

And when the leaves were off the trees and the temperatures started to drop significantly but before the snow fell, that’s when we used the old paint-splattered step ladder to haul the paper bags down, one at a time, from the garage shelf and empty them into the old wooden coal bin on the side of the house.

And sand pail by sand pail, we’d return the dried chestnuts to the front yard for the squirrels. We’d walk up and down our block and disperse our harvest for the those that hadn’t planned as properly as they should have.


That color, the dark brown of a dried chestnut, that’s the color horse I wanted.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

1 Comment on sand pail by sand pail

  1. Parul Thakur
    November 2, 2016 at 7:06 am (8 years ago)

    Wow! Your post had a magical effect on me. I was transported to the farm full of chestnut trees and all along I was with you collecting, sorting and splitting. What a sweet memoir!

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